Growing up, life was not easy for Jill Andrew who experienced poverty, temporary homelessness, childhood sexual abuse and bullying.
Aware that countless others in this city had encountered the same issues and hardships, she buckled down and used the setbacks as a springboard to become a useful member of society.
The York University PhD candidate is one of two recipients of the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC) Barbados-Canadian Friendship Scholarships.
Her doctoral research focuses on women’s body images and self-esteem, media representation and visual literacies, particularly for marginalized female populations. The harmful practice of skin-bleaching and socio-cultural economic identity among racialized women, Barbadian or Black-Canadian women of Bajan heritage in Toronto, is of deep concern to her.
The scholarships, each valued at $12,000, are awarded to full-time graduate students at York University whose area of research is related to Barbados or the Barbadian-Canadian community.
“This scholarship means a great deal because it will allow me to conduct those qualitative interviews with women here so we can discuss issues around perceptions of themselves and how others perceive them,” said Andrew, who was born in Toronto to an Antiguan father and Dominican mother. “We don’t hear a lot about the body image issues that impact Black women. The issue of skin-bleaching is critical because it causes skin and liver cancer.”
Andrew holds a Bachelor of Education degree in Social Sciences and Dramatic Arts from York University and a Masters in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto.
York University professor, Dr. Aparna Mishra Tarc, supported Andrew’s nomination.
“Jill is so very dedicated to the lives of others and gives all her energy towards working for women in the communities in which she teaches and works,” said Tarc. “She’s truly an unforgivable thinker, speaker, educator and writer.
“Her project contributes new knowledge and representations of the lives and experiences of Black Canadian women from Barbados and other Caribbean nations and it significantly addresses an aspect of Black women’s subject formation in relation to dominant society images of women’s bodies. It also aims to bring new knowledge of body issues faced by Black women to scholarly audiences and the general multicultural public.”
A motivational speaker and award-winning journalist, having received the Canadian Ethnic Journalists’ and Writers Club’s 2005 Best National Column Award, Andrew writes a column for T.O Night newspaper and started her own communications firm – Jill Andrew Media – which she uses to create fundraisers, including the Curvy Catwalk which is a plus size fashion show to raise money for women charities.
Three years ago, she established the Bite Me! Toronto International Body Image Film & Arts Festival. She is also a director of media relations for the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival.
One of 120 Canadian women handpicked in 2010 by then Governor General Michaëlle Jean to participate in the first Governor General’s conference on Women’s Security at Rideau Hall, Andrew is the recipient of the Michele Landsberg Media Activism and the Endless Possibilities African-Canadian Women’s awards.
The other scholarship winner is Jason Michelakos whose dissertation examines how disciplinary and governmental power shaped plantation slavery in Barbados and South Carolina.
The scholarships are made possible through a generous donation by former York University chancellor, Dr. Avie Bennett.
By RON FANFAIR