02.11.2005 in Current News Bookmark and Share

Carole Yawney, Rastafari scholar and social activist


She was a renowned expert on the Rastafari culture, the Pan-African movement and alternative health as well as a leading world authority on anti-racism. Carole Yawney (right), professor of sociology in the School of Social Sciences at the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies at York University, passed away quietly at her home in Northern Ontario this summer while on leave.


"She was a very passionate fighter for social justice," said Tania Das Gupta, Chair of the School of Social Sciences in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. "Carole worked on behalf of students of colour. She fought against racism and was known as one of the world’s leading experts in race, gender and alternative health."


Das Gupta described Prof. Yawney as being a pioneer in scholarly studies of racism, anti-racism and Rastafarianism. "Her work lead to the development of the Certificate in Anti-Racist Research and Practice (CARPP) at Atkinson. The certificate was the first of its kind," said Das Gupta. "She also taught courses in health, women’s health, and racism and colonialism. Carole was active in the midwifery movement and she consulted with the Addiction Research Foundation. She was also a prolific writer and was published internationally in many academic journals."


"Most importantly, she was an ethnographer and was very much an advocate for the communities she worked with," said Das Gupta. "She was frequently called to be an expert witness in cases that involved racism or when people had been wrongfully convicted. Her expertise in the Rastafari culture meant that she was a very important resource and she worked with prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby and frequently provided evidence on the Rastafari and Jamaican culture."


As a teacher, Das Gupta said Prof. Yawney was passionate, caring and committed to her students. Steven Rothfuchs, lawyer and policy analyst with Health Canada, and a former student of Prof. Yawney, agreed. "Carole's classroom teaching helped open my eyes to certain aspects of life in Southern Africa that otherwise might have remained a mystery to me," said Rothfuchs. She also provided a very valuable reference when I (successfully) applied to law school. Yet her influence and the true value of her work were only revealed to me some time later.


"After I completed my legal education, I lived in Cape Town, South Africa, for several years. During this time, I became very interested and involved in local Rastafari communities through my work at a legal non-government organization and also as a freelance journalist," recalled Rothfuchs. "Occasionally, Rastas would mention – with great affection – a Sister Carole, also from Canada. When my best friend, a Rasta who had known Carole quite well, mentioned that Sister Carole was a professor at York University, the coincidence finally clicked.


"Upon returning to Canada in 2000, I contacted Carole and let her know about our mutual acquaintances and interests. She responded with her characteristic enthusiasm and kindly shared much of her recent work with me," said Rothfuchs. "She also invited me to visit her at her home but, unfortunately, I let this opportunity slip away. Nevertheless, I'll always remember that her small physical stature only emphasized an enormous spiritual presence that provided lifelong instruction in respect and empathy."


Prof. Yawney died of cancer on July 23.  A memorial bursary will be established to celebrate the memory and accomplishments of Prof. Yawney. For more information, contact Tania DasGupta, Chair, School of Social Sciences, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, at ext. 66345 or e-mail tdasgu@yorku.ca.

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