"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program
What are your research and engagement interests?
I have many research interests, but these are centred on people of African/Black background within the Atlantic world. Most of my work draws primarily on black transnational womanist and queer colour of critique and Black radical tradition. My current research draws on Black/Africana philosophy, in particular, ontology (the nature of Being) and epistemology (knowledge production) and places these in conversation with German idealism. Other interest includes disability studies, more-than-human framework, childhood studies, climatic change, and the environment.
What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
I have primarily been motivated and propelled by the injustices that have continued to impact the lives and life chances of people of African heritage globally. For me, my journey to the School of Cities, for instance, is not my own. Many people motivated and inspired me to pursue studies, and through this, I hope to continue to strengthen my critical facilities to give back to the various communities I identify with. However, I would say that the motivating factor is my late mother and the many Blacks and the children and teens I work with each summer in Munich, Germany.
What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?
I am currently working on an opinion piece (for the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program) that aims to illuminate the consequences of hostile (defensive) architecture, as a feature of urban design, within the context of covid 19. Defensive/hostile design prevents unhoused people from social distancing, as recommended, and forces unhoused people to sleep and socialize closer together due to hostile (defensive) architecture that aims to push unhoused people out of the public view. Moreover, the unintended consequence of this anti-poor, "anti-crime" urban design feature is that unhoused people are then unable to spatially isolated, as recommended, which could increase the likelihood of Covid-19 transmission, not to mention the mental health stressors that would accompany concerns about being infected due to lack of spatial distancing. Hostile architecture can be understood as concrete benches, spikes in doorways, harsh lightning, benches with armrest in the middle, benches, or seats set at an obtuse angle to prevent anyone from sitting and certainly not laying down.
As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?
Well, I have learned to listen to my body more often. This past year was one of tremendous change and adjustment for everyone. Even the animals responded and acted differently. In that, we saw across the globe many animals taking over, or instead returning to the public commons, such as dolphins and swans spotted in the Venice canal, for instance. However, this past year has taught me to slow down; quality of life is better than quantity. I believe that we will be in this for the long haul; I do not think we are returning to "normal." For regular (before the pandemic) times? impacted many racialized communities in an inequitable way. My hope (post-pandemic) would be that we as a human species produce cities and economies that are equitable and beneficial for all; this includes moving past an economic model predicated on profits that requires exploitation of someone and someplace. This has customarily been women, racialized, indigenous people, the public commons, our natural world, and animals.
For the post-pandemic recovery, marginalized folks actively need to be centered, and as we learned those in precarious conditions will be the impacted the most.
Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?
It has been one that has proved significantly beneficial, especially in the context of Covid-19. Having fellow members to collaborate with and bounce ideas off has been tremendous in helping me to shape my deliverable. Moreover, being in fellowship with other students from different academic background allowed to conceptualize my project from an intersectional perspective that centers the city. The School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has given me a different perspective regarding my academic interest, research pursuits and has now given me another perspective to incorporate into my research going forward: the role of cities in our contemporary life experiences from all perspectives.
Any final words or message?
Given the difficult time, we are living, working, studying, teaching, and researching in I want to say that having a fellowship with diverse perspectives enables us to see and imagine differences within a given city and allows us to imagine a better and more just way of being, especially concerning each other and our social environments within the city of Toronto. It is an experience that can and will inform all of your perspectives about life in the city and with each other going forward, and one that I am happy to have been a part of.
Andrew M. Thomas is a queer Jamaican-born Canadian settler who has lived much of his life in Canada. However, he now splits his time between Munich, Germany, and Toronto, Canada, with his partner and two cats, Reds and Fats, while pursuing graduate studies in human geography at the University of Toronto, St. George. His interest spans various subjects that include, but is not limited to, Black feminist thoughts, post-colonialism, queer colour of critique, human geography, intersectionality, native studies, philosophy of knowledge, ontology, and affect theory. Through the School of Cities 2021 Fellowship, he hopes to illuminate the interlocking role of differences within the city, the province and (social processes that permit or deny) access to equitable housing related to policy producers' positionalities. During the summers, he works as an English camp counsellor and an ESL facilitator in Munich, Germany, working with children, teens, and adults, and where he has lived and worked for the last twelve years.