MSUToday
Published: Feb. 18, 2019

New Department of African-American and African Studies

Contact(s): Kim Popiolek College of Arts and Letters office: (517) 432-1561 popiolek@msu.edu, Glenn Chambers African American and African Studies program office: (517) 432-0869 chamb311@msu.edu

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has approved the establishment of a Department of African-American and African Studies, which will be part of the College of Arts and Letters. 

The new department will support the work of students, faculty and staff associated with the existing African-American and African Studies, or AAAS, program and will help re-establish MSU’s position as a national leader in Black and Africana studies. 

“Establishing a Department of African-American and African Studies has long been the goal of the unit since its founding,” said Glenn Chambers, associate professor and director of the African-American and African Studies program. “I’m elated that the faculty, students, staff and all the units in the College of Arts and Letters get to see the fruition of our efforts. What has transpired today has truly been a collaborative effort and all involved should be proud.”

The board voted on Feb. 15 to support the creation of the new department.  

The emphasis on gender and sexuality studies and critical feminists approaches as they relate to African peoples and African-descended peoples – which are major areas of study for the department – are lacking at other higher education institutions and will position MSU to be a leader in the discipline, said Christopher P. Long, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

“This is a landmark moment for the college and university,” Long said. “We are putting our commitment to equity into practice by creating a department that will support the intellectual lives of scholars and students in African-American and African studies for generations to come.” 

A major goal of the new department is to establish an undergraduate major within the next five years. The bachelor’s degree in AAAS will provide opportunities for graduate students in AAAS to acquire much-needed experience teaching in their discipline. 

The AAAS undergraduate minor, which recently was revised to streamline courses and allow more course options for minors in the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Science, will continue to be offered with no changes anticipated. 

Also, no changes are anticipated to the AAAS offerings of the graduate program, but the new department will help re-establish the AAAS Ph.D. program as a national and international leader in the field.

“MSU already has tremendous faculty and students with research and interests in the focus area of the new department, and we can now continue to grow,” said Kristie Dotson, associate professor of philosophy, who has been leading the AAAS vision process, bringing interested faculty together to imagine and construct the new department. “Having official department status means greater support for research, teaching and engagement beyond the campus that promises to be transformative. It’s going to be great to better serve our students and communities.”

Focusing on the study and production of knowledge of Africa and the African Diaspora, especially in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, the new department will bring the experiences of regional African-American and African-descended populations and themes in Michigan and/or the Upper Midwest into dialogue with scholarship on the broader African Diaspora. 

“We must embrace the intellectual substance of African-American and African studies by building curriculum and supporting an organizational structure that conveys, with clarity and urgency, how important Black and Africana studies is to Michigan, from Flint to Muskegon, from Lansing to Detroit and from the United States to Africa and the broad African Diaspora,” Long said. 

The current AAAS program at MSU was founded in 2002. The new department will be true to the founding interdisciplinary vision of that program by establishing departmental bylaws, policies, practices and a curriculum that require faculty and students to draw on disciplinary expertise in doing transdisciplinary work. 

MSU’s AAAS program has been in a restructuring phase since the 2015-2016 academic year, and in a unanimous vote at a faculty retreat on May 23, 2017, AAAS core faculty members confirmed its support to move forward with a department.  

“Establishing department status was necessary to continue to expand our work, attract strong students and represent the importance we place on the role of this scholarship and its contribution to our university and community,” said MSU Provost June Pierce Youatt. “I want to acknowledge and thank the faculty, students and staff whose outstanding work helped make the case for this positive change.”