Five students formed the Africana Studies Student Committee and wrote a proposal, which was electronically distributed on Feb. 19, to establish an Africana studies department at the University of Richmond.
The proposal provided reasoning for the creation of a department, an overview and history of Africana studies and a list of non-negotiable demands that must be met in accordance to a specific timeline.
At the time of publication, there were 708 electronic signatures on the proposal.
Junior Kayla Corbin, a member of the committee, said she and other committee members had still been in the researching phase of the proposal at the beginning of this semester. Corbin said they had shortened the timeline for the creation of the proposal after becoming aware of the racist incidents on campus.
“It was in the works before the incident,” Corbin said. “This was something that was happening before all the racial epithets, but it took on a new sense of urgency.”
Corbin said she made the formal decision to create the proposal last semester after taking the courses "Black Radical Tradition" and "Introduction to Cultural Studies" with visiting leadership studies professor Corey Walker and assistant professor of rhetoric and communication studies Armond Towns, respectively. Both professors are cited in the proposal as potential faculty for the department.
Corbin said the reasoning for the proposal had stemmed from her and fellow committee member Miquell Shaw, sophomore, realizing that their academic interests in black studies were also shared by many of their peers.
“Quell Shaw, he was doing interdisciplinary track at the same time that I was co-facilitating a black studies class here in the rhetoric department,” Corbin said. “And so we just kind of talked a lot and together we just realized, 'Oh, this is a huge interest.'”
Corbin said it was important to understand that Africana studies is for everyone.
“A lot of the nostalgia culture on campus and the hetero-white-centric philosophies and ideologies that are held and then upheld by certain things that we’re learning in classrooms can be directly combatted by the knowledge that’s provided by Africana studies,” Corbin said. “And like we’ve said in the proposal, Africana studies is not just for black students and black faculty, but it opens up people to an idea of diverse intellects and intellects that directly combat anti-black racism on this campus.”
Walker, who was named in the proposal as the potential chair of the Africana studies department, said the proposal was completely student-led. Many of the cases for black studies throughout history have been student-led, Walker said.
“These students here are following in a great tradition,” Walker said. “…they’re working within a deep intellectual genealogy and a deep tradition of student activism.”
Towns said he had no part in writing the proposal but said he was supportive of it. Towns and assistant professor of sociology Atiya Husain sent out a letter in support of the proposal to faculty members, Towns said.
“Our role going forward is to promote [the proposal],” Towns said. “More than likely, we would be the faculty teaching the classes in that department, so our goal is really to just say this is what our students want and this is how we can help facilitate as faculty.”
Towns said many of the students who wrote the proposal had tried to create their own major in Africana studies but had said they had been discouraged from doing so.
“They’ve been told that they shouldn’t do that,” Towns said. “They’ve been basically [told] that that’s not a good idea. You should have a home major. So, I think a large part of the impetus for this department is because they don’t have that capacity."
Sophomore Akeya Fortson-Brown, who got formally involved with the proposal after the racist incidents, said she had wanted to create her own major based in black and Africana studies but said her academic adviser had told her she might not have been able to graduate on-time.
”So I was in this catch-22 on a four-year scholarship and not being able to afford a fifth year,” Fortson-Brown said.
Fortson-Brown said she had been encouraged by her peers to major in American studies.
“When I came to the University of Richmond, people kept saying do American studies, do American studies, and I’m like American studies is not enough for me,” Fortson-Brown said.
Africana studies is essential for a holistic education and can allow for truly interdisciplinary study, Fortson-Brown said.
Committee member and junior TJ Tann, who also got formally involved with the proposal after the racist incidents, spoke about race and black studies not being a main focus of academics at UR.
“It’s always a subcategory of a larger category,” Tann said. “What we hope to accomplish is it is that larger category.”
The committee listed current faculty members who would be qualified to teach in the Africana Studies department in the proposal. Tann said he also hoped the implementation of an Africana studies department would lead to the hiring of more faculty of color.
“We’re hoping that it’s an opportunity that the school takes to diversify its faculty,” Tann said.
Sophomore Shira Greer, who joined the committee in the last few weeks, said it was important to distinguish Africana studies from race or ethnic studies.
“Africana studies is different from ethnic studies in that it’s not just about the study of what race is, how that developed, and it’s not just about how that has been used as a tool of oppression,” Greer said. “But it’s really about black creation and black resistance and sort of creating new conditions of possibility.”
One of the non-negotiable demands listed on the proposal was a meeting with UR president Ronald Crutcher, Jeffrey Legro, the Provost of UR, and Patrice Rankine, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, within two weeks of the submission of the proposal.
Greer received an email from Crutcher on Feb. 24 asking to set up a meeting with the Africana Studies Student Committee. Crutcher had copied Legro and Rankine on the email.
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