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Dr. Maria Bartholomew, Daniel Bartholomew, and Rosalind Bartholomew holding Ethelbert Bartholomew's posthumous degree

A long-overdue degree and hope for our future

Last Thursday was convocation for the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine, and those of us on the faculty had the joy of seeing our tremendous graduates receive their new degrees. Convocation is always a meaningful occasion, but this year’s stands out because we had the opportunity to grant a posthumous degree to Ethelbert Bartholomew.

Ethelbert should have been granted this degree 100 years ago, but the 1918 policy that banned Black medical students from Queen’s took away his opportunity to receive the degree he deserved.

You may remember that last month Principal Woolf and I signed a public letter of apology for this ban. Ethelbert’s son, Daniel Bartholomew, traveled to Kingston from Whitby to attend this apology ceremony, and I was grateful that he was able to be there.

Edward Thomas, Daniel Bartholomew, Dr. Maria Bartholomew, and Rosalyn Bartholomew
Edward Thomas, Daniel Bartholomew, Dr. Maria Bartholomew, and Rosalind Bartholomew

Afterwards, at a dinner marking the occasion, Daniel looked at me and said: “There’s one more thing I’m wondering if you could do. Could you give my dad his degree?”

Now, this sounded like a great idea to me, but I was somewhat taken aback by this simple yet profound request. So, being a polite dean, I told him I would see what I could do. Granting a degree is a complicated process, and it isn’t something I could just do on my own. Even if it were possible, I was afraid that it might take a long time. Universities, you might know, don’t exactly move at lightning speed.

So that evening, I spoke to Ann Tierney, our Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, and she said, “we can do this!”

The next day I spoke to our Director of Diversity, Mala Joneja, and she said, “we can do this!”

To my great thrill, everyone at Queen’s jumped into action with great commitment to granting this degree. Processes that would normally take us a year got finished within a month. Daniel asked for this degree in April, and we were able to confer it in May.

Conferring this degree was made all the more meaningful by the fact that Daniel and other members of Ethelbert’s family members came to Kingston to attend convocation. Two of Ethelbert’s descendants even agreed to accept the degree on his behalf: Dr. Maria Bartholomew, his great niece, and Rosalind Bartholomew, his granddaughter.

I am so grateful to all the members of the Bartholomew family who joined us for convocation. Handing Ethelbert’s long-overdue degree to Maria and Rosalind will stay with me as one of the most meaningful moments in my time as dean.  I am also grateful to PhD candidate, Edward Thomas, for his incredible and diligent work in unearthing many of the details of this story through his research.

Chancellor Leech and I with members of the Bartholomew family
Chancellor Leech and I with members of the Bartholomew family

The ban of 1918 is certainly a sad moment from our past, but, as I stood in front of our new graduates, I felt immense hope for our future. When it comes to embracing diversity, the class of 2019 is light years ahead of where we were, as a society, in 1918. Undoubtedly, they are even light years ahead of my generation.

It’s thrilling to see the ways in which they have all embraced inclusivity in the classroom, around campus, and in the hospital. For this generation, the drive to promote equity and diversity is part of who they are as people. And I know that they will all continue to work to make Canada a more equitable society as they embark on the next stage of their careers.

If you have any words of encouragement for our new graduates, please share them in the comments below. Or better yet, please stop by the Macklem House: my door is always open.

 

--Richard

 

Thank you to Andrew Willson for his assistance in preparing this blog.

 

Tom Fiala, Meds 88

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 14:39

A very fitting and uplifting conclusion to this story! Are there any more victims of the 1918 ban out there?

Tom Fiala, Meds 88

George Carson Meds 68.

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 18:22

They will do the work, and their lives, differently and that is good.
I still get to teach our students. They give me hope for the future.

George Carson Meds 68.

Bill Moore, Meds '62

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 19:11

Richard, this is an inspiring story. Hopefully prejudicial policies of the past are long gone and won't be repeated. I try to keep up with developments and trends at Queen's Medical School. My graduating year reflected what it was then, mostly white males. Times change -- congratulations for accepting and adapting.

What degree was conferred on Ethelbert B for not having been permitted to attend or survive the rigors of medical education at Queen's as my father and I did? I wish all the best for this year's MD graduates. What is their gender/racial profile, is that similar to or different from those incoming and hoping to graduate?

Data are the best support for feel-good stories.

Bill Moore, Meds '62

D. H.Braden

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 20:30

Delighted to note the granting of the long delayed degree.Congratulations to all who aided in arranging it. Congratulations to the new graduates in Medicine as they embark on their careers. I am sure that their future patients will benefit from their knowledge and skills. I hope they will keep in mind the ancient words of Maimonides that among other things reminded Physicians "in the sufferer see only the human being"

D. H.Braden

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