Dialogue on African-American Studies

Yesterday a group of students marched to South College to demand more resources for the African-American Studies major. The program has struggled in recent years, and it recently suffered a blow when two wonderful professors, Leah Wright and Sarah Mahurin, decided to move on to other institutions. Both Leah and Sarah are extraordinary scholar-teachers, and I am very sorry that they are leaving. Given the problems that were already afflicting the program, students are rightly concerned about the fate of Af-Am at Wesleyan.

Almost 100 concerned students met with Provost Ruth Weissman and me late in the afternoon yesterday. We were mostly in a listening mode, as students described to us what they saw as long-term weakness in African-American studies here. Although there was real anger in the room at times, I also heard some interesting ideas from students about potential directions we might take in the future. I was very sorry to hear the frustration in the students’ voices, and their real concern that this field had been allowed to fall into disarray at Wesleyan.

Some of the questions that came up include: What is the relation of African-Studies to recruiting and retaining students of color? How can we bring more disciplines into AF-Am? What connections should there be between American Studies and AF-Am? Between African studies and our program? How can cross-listing classes from various departments help provide the depth and breadth that a strong major requires?

There are many more questions, to be sure, and we will be discussing them with administrators, faculty and students. Together we will find ways to develop the intellectual energy and range of courses that will best serve our program and our university.