Late U of T prof helped thousands of underrepresented students go to university

A University of Toronto professor who died in June will be honoured Wednesday evening at an anniversary gala for the access-to-education program she helped start.

In 1970, Keren Brathwaite co-founded the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) in an effort to help mature Black students get a university education. The program has since expanded to include any adult who does not have the formal qualifications for university admission.

TYP’s current director Lance McCready says he remembers Brathwaite mostly for her passion for the program.

“She just brought so much energy and insight and inspiration to the program,” he told CBC Toronto. “She’s sorely missed.”

Brathwaite, along with others who helped shape the program, is set to be honoured at its 53rd anniversary gala. The event will celebrate 53 years of “making excellence accessible” in the Great Hall at Hart House with a performance by Jully Black.

WATCH | Dwight Drummond sits down with Keren Brathwaite on TYP’s 50th anniversary:

TYP is a full-time, eight-month program. It’s grown from 25 students per year to roughly 60, and has helped upwards of 2,500 people go to university over the decades.

The program focuses its support on people who didn’t have the opportunity to finish high school or didn’t succeed in high school because of financial problems, family difficulties, or other circumstances beyond their control.

“This university is a better, stronger place because of programs like TYP,” Brathwaite told CBC Toronto’s Dwight Drummond in 2019, which marked the program’s 50th anniversary.

TYP welcomes students from all walks of life

Fallon Young is now in her third year studying philosophy and bioethics at U of T after graduating from TYP — a program she says changed her life. 

“It means everything,” she said. “The disparities that I faced going through the public school system in high school, it left me in a position where I would have never been able to obtain this opportunity otherwise.”

Lance McCready is the current director of the Transitional Year Programme at the University of Toronto. He says it’s important to continue Brathwaite’s work and to uphold her legacy. (Transitional Year Programme)

For Young, the program isn’t just about achieving academic success. It’s about finding a home in a place she thought she’d never have access to. 

“TYP is a family,” she said. “We always show up, we have a space where we belong and we feel safe.” 

Gala will celebrate Brathwaite’s legacy

McCready says the Wednesday night gala is an opportunity to celebrate all of the good the program has done.

He says the program is “groundbreaking” for helping Black and Indigenous students access undergraduate studies at the “very competitive” university.

McCready says it’s important to him to continue  that work and to uphold Brathwaite’s legacy.

“She just meant a lot to a whole lot of people,” he said. “She was an inspiration to the Black community in general, specifically to the TYP community, and to the University of Toronto. Just a very important person.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Five fists raised, different shades of brown skin, next to text that says Being Black in Canada surrounded by an orange and red border.
Being Black in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)

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