Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX’s Dr. Agnes Calliste posthumously recognized by Canadian Sociology Association for outstanding contributions

June 5th, 2019

Dr. Agnes Calliste, a celebrated academic and a sociology professor who taught at StFX for over two decades where she pioneered courses on the sociology of race and gender, has been posthumously recognized for her outstanding contributions to Canadian sociology by the Canadian Sociology Association (CSA).

Dr. Calliste was the recipient of the CSA Outstanding Contribution Award presented this week in Vancouver at the association’s annual meeting.

Dr. Calliste taught at StFX from 1984 until her retirement in 2010.

“Over the course of this time Dr. Calliste distinguished herself as one the country's leading experts in the areas of anti-racism, gender and education, and Canada's immigration and race-base employment policies during the first half of the 20th Century,” StFX sociology professor Dr. David Lynes said in the nomination letter he wrote on behalf of the Sociology Department.

“Particularly influential was Dr. Calliste's research into the experience of African-Canadian sleeping car porters and their struggle for employment equity on Canada's national railroads. Equally significant were publications on anti-racism organizing and resistance by African-Canadian women nurses, black families in Canada, and the influence of the civil rights and black power movements in Canada. Important parts of this work were undertaken collaboratively with Dr. George Dei from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.”

Dr. Calliste's commitment to these issues, however, was certainly not limited to the printed page, he says.

“As important and impressive as Dr. Calliste's curriculum vitae is, what it does not capture quite as well is Dr. Calliste's many contributions to the quality life here at St. Francis Xavier University and to the local community over the course of her 26-year tenure,” he says.

“The many courses she developed and went on to teach, including a senior seminar on African Canadian Issues in Education, and two third year courses entitled The Black/African Diaspora in the Americas, and Race, Class, Gender, & Sexuality, contributed to the strength and distinctiveness of the sociology program and continues to do so to this day. But it was the generosity of her time outside of the classroom, that was so well appreciated and perhaps best remembered, especially by the many students whose health and welfare she continuously went out of her way to defend and promote.”

Not long after arriving at StFX, Dr. Calliste participated as a member of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, as well as starting up and serving as the first chair for the local chapter of the National Congress of Black Women. From these positions, together with many other local initiatives, Dr. Calliste continually worked to encourage local young people of African descent to pursue a university education and to become more politically involved, he said.

Additionally, the annual African Heritage Month lectures that Dr. Calliste initiated are now institutionalized at StFX as the annual Dr. Agnes Calliste African Heritage Lecture.

Dr. Calliste's interest in and support for student athletes certainly stands out, reinforcing and promoting, the importance of academics in the lives of these students, many of African descent, who arrived at university with a wide range of preparation and expectations surrounding their status as varsity athletes. StFX's most successful basketball coach, Steve Konchalski, had the following to say about what Dr. Calliste meant to so many of these students, "while recognizing the unique challenges of African Canadians students in particular and guiding them through them…I had one African-Canadian student-athlete who never had a black teacher throughout his whole education until he took a course from Agnes. She took many students under her wing, taking a personal interest in their lives in addition to giving them academic supports. She would often call me to discuss the academic progress or social well-being of one of my athletes and call them into her office to offer guidance.”  

Mr. Konchalski also remembered fondly Dr. Calliste's promotion of and participation in the university's Kwanzaa celebration as part of her role as StFX African Descent Student Affairs Coordinator, and concludes by observing that Dr. Calliste "did a tremendous amount to bring many ethnic groups on campus together in a celebration that showcased some of the unique talents of our students and helped bridge the gap with faculty/student relations as well."

“Dr. Calliste's distinguished career is eminently deserving of the Canadian Sociological Association's Outstanding Contribution Award as her unique contributions continue to inspire students, community members, and academics alike,” Dr. Lynes wrote.

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