Following several years of negotiation between the student body and the administration, Tufts’ new Africana Studies program is settling into its first month on the Hill, complete with a new director, a set curriculum and student interest.
The faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences in May voted in favor of a proposal to create an Africana studies major and minor.
With 59 faculty members in favor, seven against and seven abstentions, the vote affirmed the efforts of a longstanding student-led push to include Africana studies in the curriculum.
Students staged a march to Ballou Hall in November 2011 and occupied an administrative office, presenting a list of demands regarding establishment of an Africana Studies department.
Between the May faculty meeting and the start of the semester, the logistics of the new major and minor began to fall into place.
Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney appointed Associate Professor of Sociology Paula Aymer, director of the Africa and the New World minor program since 2010, as head of the Africana Studies program.
Aymer agreed to direct the program for at least one academic year, during which it will be her responsibility to create guidelines for the program and iron out the remaining details.
She plans to approach Africana studies through a wide academic lens, as she believes the discipline is best learned in the context of world events and history.
“Race and ethnicity are a little part of Africana, but it’s not the whole story,” she said. “Africana is about the black body and the black brain and the black ability – all the sides of what it means to be children of Africa.”
Students majoring in Africana studies will be required to take 10 interdisciplinary and disciplinary classes, including four core and six elective requirements focusing on African diaspora studies, African studies and African-American studies.
Students completing a minor in Africana studies will take four core courses and two electives.
The existing Africa in the New World minor will remain an option for undergraduates entering Tufts this year, but by 2014 it will be replaced entirely by the Africana studies major and minor.
The university will contribute an estimated $5,000 for the program’s first year, which will be supplemented by grants from alumni, according to Aymer.
Aymer early this month invited all professors associated with Africana Studies, including recent hires, to discuss the program.
She noted that the program welcomes student feedback during these beginning phases.
“We are looking [at the] kinks, based on comments from students,” Aymer said.
“We have to spend more time and listen to students about what they’ve noticed and difficulties they have met.”
The strength of the program thus far rests in the presence of faculty members with strong research and scholarly work concerning Africa, according to Aymer.
She added that the program’s weakest link lies in a lack of expertise regarding the African diaspora outside of Africa and North America.
However, some faculty members have expressed reservations about the new program.
Daniel Brown, associate professor of German and Swahili in the Department of German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literatures, said he was hesitant to vote in support of the new program because of a concern that students majoring in Africana Studies will not need to complete an extended language requirement.
Brown cited the language requirements within the International Relations, International Literary and Visual Studies, Judaic Studies and Asian Studies programs, all of which require six to eight semesters of a foreign language.
“Not to have a language requirement is to do injustice to Tufts students who major and minor in Africana Studies by making it categorically a weaker major and minor due to the lack of such a requirement, ” Brown told the Daily in an email.
Amber Johnson, a sophomore, is considering pursuing a major in Africana Studies for both personal and academic reasons.
“Just like people create family trees to find their ancestry, Africana Studies is a way for me to trace back and figure out why my people are the way they are in an interdisciplinary way,” Johnson said.
Sophomore Marcy Regalado, a student representative on the Race and Ethnicity Working Group that pushed for the creation of the new major, said the group will now move onto its goal of establishing majors in Asian American studies, Latino studies and queer studies.
Erica Satin-Hernandez, a senior, agreed that the program is just a start for establishing a more diverse curriculum.
“I wouldn’t consider this an end point,” she said. “This is just a first achievement in a long process for fighting for an Asian American studies major and an improved Latino studies minor.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that students presented “…a list of demands regarding establishment of an Africana Studies program.” In fact, they presented a list of demands regarding an Africana Studies department. The current version of the article reflects this change.