Community-led Tamil Chair campaign reaches $3-million fundraising goal

May 7, 2021

More than 3,800 people contributed to the Chair in Tamil Studies at University of Toronto Scarborough, which will be the first of its kind in Canada.

Dancers perform at the Tamil Heritage Month celebration hosted at U of T Scarborough. Photo by Joseph Burrell.
Dancers perform at the Tamil Heritage Month celebration hosted at U of T Scarborough in 2019. Photo by Joseph Burrell.

The campaign to establish a Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough has met its philanthropic goal of $3 million, thanks to a little help from some friends. Make that a lot of friends.

More than 3,800 donors gave to the grassroots campaign, which was spearheaded by the Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Chair, Inc. in 2018. Since then, individuals, businesses, governments and community organizations have pitched in to realize the dream of bringing Tamil studies home to U of T. While the bulk of the donors are local to Scarborough and the eastern Greater Toronto Area, the campaign has also earned international recognition, with philanthropic support arriving from as far as France, Australia and Malaysia.

A historic community initiative

For fourth-year Arts student Kanitha Uthayakuma, who has been actively involved in the Tamil Students Association at U of T Scarborough, the Tamil Chair and its placement at UTSC is special.

“There are a large number of Tamil students at UTSC. A lot of Tamil students want to learn their history. Having the opportunity to study Tamil at the University level would be great,” says Uthayakuma.

For the chair organizers and many of the campaign supporters, it was a priority to bring the Chair to the University of Toronto, one of the top-ranked schools in the world – and a school that intrinsically values inclusive excellence.

“We are proud to establish a Tamil Chair at Canada’s most prestigious university – the University of Toronto – and in particular to its Scarborough Campus, a part of our great city that is home to a large Tamil population. On behalf of the Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Chair Inc. we would like to thank each and every donor, volunteer and community group who contributed to this historical initiative,” said Sivan Ilangko, committee chair for the Chair in Tamil Studies, who is also president of the Canadian Tamil Congress and a director of Tamil Chair, Inc.

A boon to scholarship in one of the world’s great classical languages

Tamil is among the world’s seven classical languages, with a continuous linguistic and literary history stretching back more than 2,000 years. With more than 80 million speakers, Tamil is one of the most frequently spoken languages in the world. Canada — specifically, the area around the GTA and eastern Toronto where the UTSC campus is based — is home to the largest Tamil community outside of the Indian subcontinent.

The Chair in Tamil Studies represents the first of its kind in Canada, and will be a boon to UTSC’s large and active Tamil-heritage student population, enabling the preservation and memorialization of Tamil culture and language through scholarship, and establishing a focal point for Tamil scholars all over the world to collaborate or pursue higher Tamil studies.

“I offer my heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to the campaign organizers, volunteers and the countless donors from around the world, whose commitment, determination, perseverance, passion, and belief in the cause enabled us to realize this goal. They have brought to fruition the collective aspiration of the global Tamil community to preserve, grow, and sustain its cultural heritage for the enrichment of the common good,” said Wisdom Tettey, vice-president of the University of Toronto and principal of the University of Toronto Scarborough, in a statement.

“Together with our community partners, we proudly celebrate what has been accomplished through this truly unique exemplar of innovative, inclusive, and participatory university-community mobilization for common purpose,” he added.

Now that the campaign goal has been met, UTSC will begin the work of recruiting the Chair.

By Erin Vollick