Feb. 17, 2022

Scholarship honours a legacy of advocacy, action, and excellence

Announcing the Dave Este Excellence Graduate Scholarship for Black Faculty of Social Work graduate students
Portrait of David Este
Kloie Picot

Since joining the Faculty of Social Work in 1992, Professor Emeritus Dr. David Este, PhD, has built an enduring legacy as a researcher, educator, advocate, author and filmmaker.

Yet some of his colleagues across Canada have questioned why he has done so exclusively at an institution where he’s had to face the challenges that come with being one of only a few Black faculty members. 

“Our faculty has a reputation in other parts of Canada as being very conservative,” he says. “Layered upon that, it is a very white school. I have had Black colleagues who have asked me how I have managed to stay at the University of Calgary for the entirety of my career.”

While he more than acknowledges that such criticisms are not without merit, he uses the example of the Faculty’s Anti-Black Racism Task Force, on which he sits as a committee member, to illustrate how UCalgary’s school of social work has taken the lead nationally in addressing racism.

Formed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, the task force’s stated objectives are to engage in a transparent dialogue on racism and privilege and to create change. While many institutions issued similar directives calling for support to combat anti-Black racism, Este says not all have met the challenge of taking substantive action:

It's one thing taking a stand. But, for me, taking the stand isn't good enough because words are one thing… if there's no action, then the words ring pretty hollow and nothing really changes.

Some of the initiatives of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force include the creation of a terms of reference, the development of three new courses, and, perhaps most significantly, the development of an action plan with concrete realizations of an anti-racist philosophy.

“I think I could say that, given the work that this Anti-Black Racism Task Force has done since July 2020, we may be one of the few faculties and schools of social work that have actually developed an action plan to deal with the different manifestations of anti-Black racism within our faculty,” he says.

Another important initiative to come from the task force has been the creation of three scholarships for Black social work students, one of which is named the Dave Este Excellence Graduate Scholarship.

He says he was surprised when his name came up during an Anti-Black Racism Task Force meeting over Zoom.

“I must say, it's a great honour to have this scholarship in my name. It certainly wasn't on my radar,” he says with a laugh.

Este's Faculty of Social Work colleague and Ant-Black Racism Task Force co-chair Dr. Patrina Duhaney, PhD, says it was “natural” to honour Este in this manner given his track record as an academic, a social worker and an advocate.

“He's done extensive work in social work [throughout] Canada to advance and bring attention to the experiences of Black individuals,” she says. "With the significant work that he's done, and continues to do in the faculty, I thought that it was really pivotal. It's also important to note that he’s mentored so many students and professors and continues to do so.”

Passing the torch to a new generation of Black graduates and postgraduates

Focusing extensively in the areas of immigration, mental health, and historical and contemporary experiences of people of African descent in Canada, in 2019 Este was among the members of the team that received the Governor General’s award for the production of the documentary, We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and Their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies (a followup film, Black Lives in Alberta: Over a Century of Racial Injustice Continues was released late last year.

Recently, he was among the Faculty of Social Work team members honoured at the UCalgary Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Awards for their study that explored the experiences of race and racism among social work educators and students.

Among his many accolades as an educator, Este was recognized with the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ Lee Lorch Award for excellence in teaching, research and service. He says he’s pleased that the scholarship in his name will be awarded to graduate students not only because most of his instruction was at the MSW and PhD level, but because of the need to attract more Black students who could go to serve in faculty roles nationwide.

“We want to make sure that we encourage more [Black] students to go into graduate school, whether it be at the MSW level or the PhD level,” he says. “From a gender perspective, there is a need to try to get more Black male students in graduate schools of social work, because there's a dearth of male African Canadian social work faculty in Canada.”

“We believe that the scholarships that we're offering are vital for the success of students who are in our program,” says Duhaney. “Initially it was really important for us to have the support of the Faculty of Social Work in recognizing the importance of this. Beyond that, we are extending requests and support from the general population and are looking for private donations to really ensure the success of these scholarships.”

The Faculty of Social scholarships for Black students are dependent upon the support of people like you. If you think this is an important initiative, please consider donating to the scholarship funds! Learn more