AU Celebrates Launch of African American and African Diaspora Studies Program

BY: CRAIG STEVENS

Photo by Lauren Lumpkin

Photo by Lauren Lumpkin

This semester marks the beginning of the new African American and African diaspora studies undergraduate major and minor programs. The Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies Collaborative (CRGC) organized an event Tuesday night to highlight the importance of studying Black history. Just in case you didn't snag a ticket, The Blackprint’s got your back with the event’s highlights.

The sold-out event was held in the School of International Service’s Abramson Family Founders Room. CRGC Chair and Interim Program Director Dr. Theresa Runstedtler began the event with a strong plug for the department's initiatives. In addition to the new African American and African diaspora studies degrees, the department also hosts American studies, Arab world studies, Asian studies, multi-ethnic studies and women's, gender, and sexuality studies. The program-wide mission is to “create a small liberal arts feeling in the midst of a high powered research university.”  

Dr. Keith Leonard is the first Black tenure-track professor in AU’s  literature department. He also serves as director of both the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Program and the African American and African diaspora studies program.

“While the founding of this program [in 2017] feels belated... it’s right on time,” Leonard said.  

Photo by Lauren Lumpkin

Photo by Lauren Lumpkin

Leonard stressed the importance of Black studies in the country’s current social and political climate. The study of race, culture, diversity and inclusion equips students with a distinctive set of critical lenses that he believes can lend itself to a career in any field.

Sophomore Alyssa Moncure is one of the the first students to declare the new major. Moncure and Blackprint opinion editor and former Student Government president Devontae Torriente introduced the event’s primary speaker, Dr. James Peterson.

Peterson is the director of Africana studies and a professor of English at Lehigh University.  During his career he has authored several books including: The Hip Hop Underground and African American Culture, Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners and Hip Hop Headphones: A Scholar’s Critical Playlist. In addition to a Q & A session with AU’s Director of the new Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center Ibram Kendi, Dr. Peterson gave a brief lecture on the vitality of Black studies and the critical terms within it.  

Peterson broke down the importance of contextualizing Black history with our present situation. Alluding to the mass destruction that occurred during the recent natural disasters in Houston, Florida and the Caribbean, Peterson made the analogy, “when America simply sneezes, Black folk got pneumonia.” Facts.

Dr. Peterson concluded with a discussion on the need for equity rather than equality. While equality calls for an even distribution of rights and resources, equity considers that not everyone is afforded the same resources in life due to our country’s long history of discrimination.