Africana studies restructures program
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 08:09
After a stable first year following its inception last fall, the Africana studies program has returned to the Hill for its second year with a new advisor, a planned introductory course and increased support.
Professor of Francophone Studies Adlai Murdoch, who was appointed Director of the Africana studies program this summer, expressed a desire to make the program more well-known on campus.
“I want it to be more visible internally in terms of Tufts students and more accessible within broader academic studies so that other universities become aware of this program,” Murdoch said.
While the Africana studies program emerged last year, this will be the first year Africana studies is offered as a major, according to Academic Coordinator of the Africana studies Program James Williams.
The goal of the program, which grew out of the Africa In the New World minor, is to expand student interest and course offerings in the area of Africana descent, according to Murdoch. Over the summer, Williams worked with Murdoch to create two new courses, which students can take as part of the 10-course major requirement, Williams said. These two new classes, which include “Introduction to Africana Studies” and another unspecified capstone course, will examine the development of modern Africa over the past 20 or 30 years.
While all courses that count towards the Africana studies major are currently cross-listed, Murdoch hopes to see the program become more independent.
“The goal beyond this is to develop three, four, five, more courses specific to Africana studies — to have our own program or body of courses as opposed to depending on faculty from other programs,” Murdoch said.
By 2015, the Africa in the New World minor will be phased out and courses will transfer into the new major, Williams said.
“Through these means we hope to become more visible, more viable and more self-sustaining,” he said.
As the program currently stands, Murdoch believes one of the biggest advantages of the program is its perspective of African culture both within and far from the continent.
Currently, 11 of Tufts’ peer institutions do not host strong programs that emphasize modern Africa, Williams said. Most colleges and universities offer just two or three courses.
While the program continues to gain strength, Murdoch acknowledged that the Africana studies major still contains a few weaknesses — specifically the program’s lack of an extended language requirement and expertise in the field of African diaspora. Faculty members are already working to eliminate these points of vulnerability, he said.
“The language requirement is something we will be working on during the course of the year,” Murdoch said. “That gap [in diaspora expertise] is being filled to an increasing extent by the number of new hires Tufts has made in targeting this year.”
One such new hire, Murdoch said, is Gregory Thomas, a new professor in the Department of English. The Dean’s Office has also authorized the program to hire another professor on the history of slavery this year.
Murdoch believes the strengthening of the new program is in many ways reflective of Tufts’ general direction toward boosting education options in the future.
“In a sense the program is both indicative and definitive of a bold new direction that Tufts is taking under the leadership of [Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney] to address areas germane to minority issues and concerns which have been lacking at Tufts for some time,” Murdoch said.
A part of what drove the creation of the Africana studies major was student activism, Murdoch said. Many students held discussion groups and sit-ins prior to the program’s creation.
“[We held] several meetings, in fact, with students who were leaders of the student protests from last spring,” he said. “They gave us quite a bit of useful info and pointed out key perspectives that we included in the final draft of our proposal.”
Murdoch said that the university has contributed much financially to the program’s development. Last year, the university gave the program $5,000 — a number that is certain to rise in following years, he said.
“I have been assured by the Dean’s Office that support and resources have been increased for this year,” Murdoch said. “Whatever the program needs within reasonable bounds in order to make it the success that it needs to be.”
In addition to the effort made in implementing the program, students have also been involved with financially supporting the new program.
Tufts alumnus Adam Cohen (LA ‘13), for example, donated $7,500 to support the program.
“The administration is not always able to grant what the program needs,” Cohen said. “The donation was to help guarantee that in its first couple of years so that there would be a very large budget so that the program would succeed.”
Murdoch explained how the program is relevant to all students, not only those interested in majoring in Africana studies.
“This program teaches you the ways in which the entire world is interrelated,” he said. “If you’re majoring in [International Relations] and you do not know anything about Africa or Africa-related history or languages or cultures, you are in a sense shutting yourself off from a tremendous portion of populations and cultures. You’re limited not just your own knowledge but the areas of specialization which might then lead to foreign service postings, for example.”
Williams expressed enthusiasm about the direction and vision of the program.