Earlier this week, I sent a message to faculty members and staff members of the School of Arts and Sciences in my capacity as dean of A&S. My role in the discussions regarding Africana studies at the University of Richmond is pertinent. I am dean of UR’s largest school by more than threefold. I am also a leading scholar in classical studies and black studies.
"Ulysses in Black" and "Aristotle and Black Drama" are the titles of two of my books, monographs that won me tenure and promotion to associate professor, and then to full professor, both at Purdue University. A sampling of my broader body of work that appears in articles and books across 20 years, "Ulysses in Black" and "Aristotle in Black Drama" were the culmination of years of study and intellectual somersaults that extended my learning across two very different academic fields.
Much of what our students propose in regard to Africana studies at UR is commendable; they point to the need for systemic change. Racism and anti-blackness must be addressed, piece by piece, until the university and our curriculum are anti-racist and anti-colonial. I propose three steps that we as faculty members and academic leaders in A&S can take, in the short-run and longer term, to support our students.
1. Propose a minor or concentration through the A&S Academic Council.
Every college and university is different. The Africana Studies program at Williams College is currently a concentration, not a major or minor. In our case, at UR, our Academic Council in the School of Arts and Sciences, which meets on alternate Tuesdays across the academic year, is a forum for proposing all academic programs in A&S. Much of our time in AC is spent reviewing existing academic programs and hearing proposals for new and revised programs. It is an informative process where we all learn a great deal about academic programs in A&S.
Recent proposals that have been approved through the university process include an A&S pilot major in education and a concentration in data science and statistics. The approval process allows academic leadership to consider the staffing, space and resources that are needed to create a program, whether a concentration, minor or major. AC is the forum for the broadest involvement, which would include the Africanist faculty in A&S, as an example, and those in Latin American, Latino and Iberian Studies, as another that casts important perspectives on the African diaspora and other global concerns.
2. Take onboard the students’ call for non-European, anti-racist courses – perhaps even required – within all A&S majors.
I agree with the idea that in order to understand broader truths across time and space, one must understand oneself. Thus, an approximately 40% non-white student body and all students at UR deserve a curriculum that reflects the realities of those populations. Stopping at oneself, one’s own culture, however, perpetuates the same problems that a Eurocentric curriculum introduced. Rather, a broad, non-European and anti-racist curriculum is reflective of the contemporary world, as opposed to that of the 1960s and 1970s. The Global South Initiative at the University of Virginia is a promising example. In A&S, the department of theater and dance recently crafted a diversity mission statement and introduced a required, non-Eurocentric course for all of its majors. Faculty members have jurisdiction over the curriculum, and thus I point only to how the department of theater and dance proposed these courses, within their departments. It is for other departments to dig into their own approaches to address the issues at hand.
3. Support President Crutcher’s inclusive excellence platform.
University President Ronald A. Crutcher posted a broad, three-pronged framework for inclusive excellence at UR. Let us live into the promise of the framework, which includes language regarding what we mean by “diversity” at UR. It calls for bias training across university populations: students, faculty and staff. It calls for investigating space that affirms black and other underrepresented students. We might all read the Inclusive Excellence reports, across the university, and hold discussions on them so that we entrench them into our action steps. The Critical Race Connect conference on April 6, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Brown-Alley Room of Weinstein Hall, might be an opportunity to reflect on the platform.
I write in the interest of all of our students, who deserve global exposure. Let us start by using existing processes, policies and institutional structures.
Dr. Patrice Rankine is the dean of the University of Richmond's School of Arts and Sciences and a professor of classics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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