Ashley Marshall, a Communications professor at Durham College, is a blues-loving, alto saxophone playing advocate and teacher. Marshall graduated with a master’s degree at 23 and became a part-time teacher at 24.
Originally, she planned on being a lawyer, but eventually “grew into being a teacher.”
“I’m very much a creative dreamer, artsy,” she said. “I always find it difficult to relate to people because my ideas are over here … maybe that’s why I’m a teacher.”
She has been at Durham College for seven years, having enjoyed her experience thus far.
She has made connections with her peers and students who has also taken an interest to her personality and teaching methods.
“I kind of fell in love with my life and I’m starting to understand that I can make an impact,” she said.
In 2018, Marshall and DC’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusions at that time, Allison Hector-Alexander, went to Harvard University where Marshall presented a project called “Black Portraitures: The Black Left,” about the intersections of art, activism and academia focusing on anti-Black racism.
After the presentation, she realized something important.
“When we came back, I was like, there’s clearly a need for this because every other school has a Black club or something,” she said.
Marshall, along with Allison Hector-Alexander, who is now the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with the Region of Durham, created a club called the Black Student Success Network (BSSN) at DC.
“I went about starting one because not only did my research and my experience suggest that it was necessary, but why not?”
The network now consists of Marshall, Crystal Garvey and Jacqueline Williamson, two nursing professors, Jason Vassell, who is a former police officer, and the director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (OEDI), Nikki Samuel.
Together, they doing their “best to help Black students” and create a “space for students to feel community, because…community is how we survive.”
Although events were held virtually and were challenging to navigate, the network still pushed on.
“There’s something special about being among people who get you. There’s something safe about it. There’s something liberating about it, there’s something healthy,” Marshall said.
Nikki Samuel joined the club in May 2021, a month after she was hired at DC as the Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Samuel, who joined DC to replace Allison Hector-Alexander, says Marshall has “been an awesome connection in my transition to Durham and it’s been refreshing.”
“I am inspired by Ashley, I feel like I look up to Ashley where she’s insanely smart, talented and well-read,” said Samuels.
Marshall is an also academic – meaning she reads, writes and researches. She has worked on many projects and stories about racial issues in Canada, uplifting Black communities.
Anna Natoli, Manager, Program and Curriculum Development at Durham College, describes her relationship with Marshall as what “started off as colleagues.”
“She’s strong-willed and very aware of her own position in the context of what she will advocate for,” said Natoli.
The two have known each other for about three years. This friendship grew as the two went “out just exploring the world” to take road trips and walk Marshall’s dog Mila.
Marshall is a self-described “complete geek for music.”
“I am a music journalist. I write about music as often as I can. It’s a definite passion of mine,” she said.
Her favourite artists include Charles Bradley, Bob Marley and Alabama Shakes.
“You know, I more gravitate to the really artistic, creative, run to the beat of their own drum type of power and strength.”
She also strives to be a “powerful woman.”
“My whole life, I just want to surround myself with powerful women and I learned that they get their magic by being goddesses. They get their magic by drinking enough water and wrapping their hair with silk at night and caressing their body with coconut oil and just frolicking in the woods.”
Marshall strives to continue to be herself and live her life.
“I like whatever the universe brings to me like opportunities or people or anything – I’m always just grateful and I go with it.”