Africana studies major incoming, Dean says
Published: Friday, September 16, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 16, 2011 07:09
In response to a recently reemerging student demand for a change in the university's race and ethnic studies offerings, and specifically calls for an Africana studies department, Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney today announced plans to develop a new academic program offering study tracks in a wide variety of race and ethnic concentrations.
The program will offer expanded options for the study of Africa and the African Diaspora, but could also include faculty and courses focusing on race and ethnicities from Asia and North and South America as well as some gender, sexuality and urban studies.
While the specific academic content remains undetermined, Berger-Sweeney pledged her support for the program by guaranteeing a group of three new tenure-track faculty hires and the appointment of a program director as early as the 2012-2013 academic year.
An eight-member faculty committee, which convened for the first time Wednesday, proposed the program's content for consideration by the full faculty, who must approve any new academic program, Berger-Sweeney said.
"This group really needs to think about what is the core mission of this programmatic entity and ...what are we trying to achieve," Berger-Sweeney said. "What should be the purpose of a new program that we create? What's going to be cutting edge? What's going to serve today and tomorrow's students? What should students be able to major and minor in? What will have enough substance and content?"
Berger-Sweeney cited in her announcement ethnicity and identity-focused academic programs at Stanford University, New York University, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, which offer comparative race and ethnicity analysis in addition to academic tracks specific to particular races and ethnicities.
"I do believe that these institutions have programs that, as far as I can tell, are highly regarded and very interesting and cutting edge," she told the Daily. "I believe that we can take them as some models, but that we can do something even more interesting, exciting and unique to Tufts."
Berger-Sweeney said that the new program will house a number of new majors, including Africana studies.
"Africana should be a core component of it," Berger-Sweeney said. "We don't want to go completely away from some of the original requests."
The faculty committee consists of Professor of Biology Frances Chew, Professor of History Peniel Joseph, Assistant Professor of Political Science Natalie Masuoka, Professor of Anthropology Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Associate Professor of English Christina Sharpe and Associate Professor of Psychology Samuel Sommers. Assistant Professor of History Kris Manjapra and Assistant Professor of Music Stephan Pennington will advise the committee as junior faculty consultants.
Chew is a former director of the American Studies Program. Joseph and Pacini Hernandez both served on the task force on Africana studies. Chew and Pacini Hernandez serve on the faculty Curricula Committee for the School of Arts and Sciences.
"I also wanted to make sure I had a balance of people who both were in classic humanities departments and those who were more social science oriented, so we just had a breadth of ideas coming into the room to think creatively," Berger-Sweeney said.
Berger-Sweeney said professors with experience in the American studies and Africa in the New World programs would be able to consider potential changes to the existing curriculums in their departments following the introduction of a new program focused on race and ethnicity studies.
Without imitating any one existing program at Tufts, the new program will likely be developed in a similar vein to the International Relations program, which does not have a defined set of faculty but instead draws its staff from relevant departments.
Berger-Sweeney explained in an interview with the Daily that she chose to implement a program rather than promote the option of a department specific to the study of the African Diaspora based on the report she received from the task force on Africana studies, which she convened in February. They delivered their final recommendations during the summer recess.
A program would serve a wider swath of the undergraduate population and act as a more flexible solution to the university's approach to race and ethnicity-specific studies, she said.
"The question existed before I came to Tufts University and it's in some ways a question that every generation asks about what should be taught and how it should be taught," she said. "I had to stop and think about what was the best decision for Arts and Sciences and what I thought I truly support, what I thought I heard the faculty supporting, and … [what] student voices [were saying]."
"We could have simply upgraded the current minor to a major," she wrote in her announcement, citing the existing but floundering Africa in the New World minor, which some have requested be updated to meet the demand of an Africana studies department. "But that doesn't seem a sufficient improvement," she continued. "The future I seek suggests a comparative model where students and faculty from different groups can think both horizontally; that is, across the discrete subject areas of race and ethnicity and possibly gender and deeply within them."