Recently released Africana Studies Task Force report shows divided opinion

The report released last month composed by the members of the Africana Studies Task Force offered three different possible approaches, rather than a single coherent recommendation, to Africana studies as an academic discipline at Tufts.

The group, composed of faculty, students and administrators, was charged in February by Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger−Sweeney with four tasks: evaluate the university’s resources, present potential models of Africana studies curricula, recommend academic structures and alterations and evaluate the roles the African diaspora already plays in other departments at Tufts.

Berger−Sweeney told the task force at their final meeting in May that the group had failed to address these goals, according to Chartise Clark (LA ’11), a member of the task force.

The group offered three different possible options for the university to pursue, showing what Berger−Sweeney called a divide in opinion.

“It was quite clear to me that the task force itself had not reached a decision about the best structure,” Berger−Sweeney said.

“Different constituencies seemed to want and believe different things should happen,” she said. “I guess it was my hope that there might have been a bit more of a consensus.”

A single recommendation carries more weight than a series of recommendations, according to Berger−Sweeney.

“I think a recommendation is much more powerful when multiple constituencies think it’s the right thing, as opposed to different constituencies recommending, in essence, different things,” she said.

The report was finalized, Clark explained, before the task force had reached a consensus on revisions made to it. She noted that between the time when she and Hope Wollensack (LA ’11), the only two students on the task force, submitted comments on a late draft of the report and the time of its final publication, the group did not reach a consensus on final revisions.

“None of us on the task force had actually seen the final report, and it’s being handed out to us,” she said.

The group’s final report was made available online last month, following a Sept. 20 open meeting during which students requested that Berger−Sweeney release it publicly, according to Clark.

Berger−Sweeney told the Daily that the students’ requests influenced her decision to release the report, even though it is unusual to release a task force report to the public.

“I thought that a number of students were requesting it and making a very big deal about a document that I didn’t think said anything that they couldn’t see,” Berger−Sweeney said. “When there was so much controversy over it, it didn’t seem worthwhile to spend time fighting about a task force report that was done, rather than me actually moving forward and doing my job.”

The task force report gives a critique of Africa in the New World, an interdisciplinary program that offers a minor for Tufts students.

The report states that the program’s course offerings are inadequate and that Tufts should establish an introductory gateway course for all minors in the program.

The report also emphasizes that Tufts is behind similar institutions in offering Africana studies.

“Tufts University is currently falling behind while its peers push forward in developing Africana studies at their institutions,” the report states.

It outlines three recommendations that the university could follow to address these weaknesses but does not definitively say which one is best. The first scenario, proposed by Clark and Wollensack, described how the university could create an Africana studies department.

The second, supported by a group of faculty, suggested establishing “an Africana program, or a broader based racial, ethnic studies program with a track in Africana studies, with a major and a minor but not necessarily with the full accompaniments of a department.”

The final suggestion, presented by one faculty member, involved the creation of a Center for Africana Studies.

The report recommended that the university re−evaluate whatever new entity it establishes every five years.

Berger−Sweeney announced in a Sept. 14 letter to the Tufts community that the university would embark on the creation of a comparative race and ethnicity program, which would offer a major in Africana studies.

This letter states that Berger−Sweeney formed a faculty working group that will focus on the future of this program. Since this announcement, students have entered negotiations with university administrators regarding the future of the program.

The university agreed to allow student participation in the faculty working group.

It also consented to hire three tenure−track faculty in existing departments. These faculty members will teach courses geared towards Africana studies within the new race and ethnic studies program.