Ryerson’s Faculty of Law changing its name to honour the late Lincoln Alexander

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By Sara Alves Fernandes and Alexis Gutfreund

Ryerson University’s Faculty of Law will officially be renamed after the late Honourable Lincoln Alexander (1922-2012) at the inaugural year-end celebration on May 6.

The Faculty of Law, launched in September 2020, is the first law school to be established in over a century in Toronto, according to a news release from the Faculty of Law.

Alexander was the first Black person to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons and served for 12 years. He was re-elected four times, during which he was a vocal advocate for the rights of racialized people. 

Alexander was also the chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, an organization committed to ending racial discrimatiom and racism in Canada. This allowed him to further advance his advocacy.

He was also the first Black person to serve as federal cabinet minister and to be appointed as lieutenant-governor of Ontario. Alexander took an active role in multicultural affairs fighting for equal rights for all races throughout his term as lieutenant-governor. 

“To have a law school be named in honour of Lincoln is very special indeed, and will certainly inspire the Black Canadian community and future generations to come”

In an email to The Eyeopener, his granddaughter, Erika Alexander, said Alexander decided to go to law school after being denied work because of the colour of his skin, while his wife, Yvonne Harrison, worked multiple jobs to support him through law school.

“My grandmother Yvonne worked laundry and cleaning jobs to support Lincoln while he was studying. Without Yvonne, my grandfather would have never been able to afford his studies at all,” she said.

Erika said renaming Ryerson’s law school after her grandfather is significant to her grandparents’ legacy. 

“To come full circle, and now have a law school, the first of its kind, be named in honour of Lincoln, is very special indeed, and will certainly inspire the Black Canadian community and future generations to come,” said Erika.

According to the Law Society of Ontario, before 1977, only 0.1 per cent of lawyers in Ontario were Black. This was one of the challenges Alexander regularly faced while practicing law. 

Erika said Alexander was a partner in the first interracial law firm in Canada. She added that because of his contributions to Canadian society, he was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Canada, appointed to the Order of Ontario, among others. 

Why choose to rename the Faculty of Law after Lincoln Alexander

According to Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi, Alexander showed a strong commitment to promoting education and youth leadership. He said Alexander’s commitment to advancing racial equality is admirable and that he hopes students hold true to the same value of supporting others.

“We hope that our students will similarly serve and support others in their future careers, holding true to their values with the same fervour that he did,” he said.

Donna Young, founding dean of Ryerson’s law school, said in an email to The Eye that the vision of the school is similar to the beliefs that Alexander held throughout his career. 

“Ryerson Law’s vision is to become a model for legal education that drives the legal profession to become more accessible, equitable and technologically advanced,” said Young.

“Ryerson Law’s vision is to become a model for legal education that drives the legal profession to become more accessible, equitable and technologically advanced”

As previously reported by The Eyeopener, Young said that the law school objects to the industry standards because it focuses on making the legal field equitable and better for racialized people.

Both Alexander’s widow and granddaughter were involved in several consultations about the renaming process, which took place over 18 months.

Marni Beal-Alexander, wife of late Alexander, said “Lincoln Alexander was a man of great character, determination and resilience.”

According to Beal-Alexander, Alexander’s kindness, generosity and devotion to his family as well as Canadians were indisputable.

“I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to be by his side as he looked back over his life and I know that his fight for racial equality will live on,” she said.

Along with fighting for equality, Alexander also was a champion for education and youth leadership.

“We are shaping the lawyers of tomorrow to expand the reach of justice and respond to the evolving challenges that face Canadian society,” Young said.

You can register for the inaugural year-end celebration where the new Faculty of Law name will be revealed here.

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