While many teachers might shy away from promoting open discussion on sensitive issues of race, religion, sexuality and economic differences, Dr. Carol Duncan encourages those topics debate in her classroom.
From introductory courses to graduate studies, she fosters and teaches students how to discuss “uncomfortable” matters that affect people’s daily lives.
That’s her teaching style and it has worked with enormous success.
The religious studies professor and department chair at Wilfrid Laurier University has been recognized for stimulating students in a wide range of subjects while maintaining a superior research and publication record with a 3M National Teaching Fellow.
Considered the top teaching honour in Canada, the award recognizes excellence in the classroom and educational leadership.
“I feel honoured and privileged to have such significant recognition,” said Duncan who trained as a sociologist. “I see it as a formal ‘thank you’ and an invitation to join in conversation about teaching and learning with colleagues from across the country. It also highlights the importance of teaching at Laurier. One doesn’t teach in a vacuum. You are part of a community of educators. Laurier has been a good place to be a teacher as well as a scholar.”
Laurier president and vice-chancellor Max Blouw joined the university community in congratulating Duncan who joined the campus staff in July 1997.
“At Laurier, we put a strong emphasis in the student experience and Carol exemplifies our commitment to create an outstanding learning environment that engages students in their studies,” he said.
Sponsored by 3M Canada and the Society for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), the award includes a lifetime STLHE membership, a citation and an invitation to take part in a teaching and learning retreat with this year’s other nine fellows who will be honoured at the STLHE annual conference at Queen’s University in June.
“I am thrilled that Carol has been invited to join the 3M Teaching Fellowship,” said Pat Rogers, associate vice-president for teaching and learning. “Carol is a supreme example of the professor who challenges and supports her students to achieve their best and through her extraordinary powers of leadership and her gentle approach, she transforms the lives of students and colleagues alike.”
Since joining Laurier, Duncan has developed 25 classroom courses, including “Religion and Culture of the African Diaspora” and “Religion and Social Change”. She is also globally recognized for her research in Caribbean religions and migration in transnational contexts along with her work on the African Diaspora.
“Dr. Duncan is a master teacher, public intellectual and a rigorous scholar who has brought to the academic mainstream the study of the African Diaspora and Black Canada,” said Dr. Afua Cooper who holds the James Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. “She has been engaged in these pursuits for over two decades and is most deserving of this prestigious award.”
A strong supporter of the arts, Duncan incorporates oral history, literary narratives and performing arts, including dance and music, in her courses.
“Getting students attuned to multiple voices on a particular theme or topic builds a multi-layered story for the course,” she said. “This clarifies central themes for students and brings arts and culture into the classroom, hopefully demystifying related works for students.”
Born in England and raised in Antigua and Toronto, Duncan is the recipient of several awards and fellowships. They include the Laurier University Faculty of Arts Teaching Scholar Award, the university-wide Award for Teaching Excellence and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association’s Teaching Award.
She also served as a research Fellow in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program as well as a visiting associate professor at Harvard Divinity School in 2006-7.
Her research interests include Caribbean religions in Diaspora, particularly the Spiritual Baptist tradition, religion and post-colonialism, critical pedagogy in religious studies and religion and popular culture with a focus on representations of gender, race and sexuality in film and video.
Duncan co-authored the textbook, “Black Church Studies: An Introduction” that was released in 2007 and authored “Spiritual Baptists in Toronto: This Spot of Ground” that shows how the development of the Spiritual Baptist religion in Canada has been shaped by the immigration experiences of church members, mainly women.
The book also examines ways in which religious experiences have mediated the members’ of migration and everyday life in Canada.
She also contributed to the two-volume, “The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions”, which covers the world’s religions as they manifest themselves and are transformed in the Caribbean context.
Duncan secured her doctorate in sociology from York University where she was a teaching assistant as a graduate student.
She’s the fourth Laurier professor to be awarded a 3M Fellowship since it was established in 1986.
Canada now has 278 Fellows representing a wide range of academic disciplines.