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Academic Council votes in favor of Africana Studies Program proposal

<p>&nbsp;The entrance to the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences's office at Boatwright Memorial Library.</p>

 The entrance to the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences's office at Boatwright Memorial Library.

The Arts and Sciences Academic Council voted on Dec. 1 in support of the creation of an Africana studies program at the University of Richmond. The Africana studies program proposal will now be considered and voted on by all voting arts and sciences faculty, said Timothy Barney, rhetoric and communications department chair and member of the council.

Council members voted on a motion to approve the creation of an Africana studies program, Surabhi Vittal, director of financial planning and operations at the School of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email to The Collegian. The motion was passed with 27 votes in support, no votes against, four abstentions and one absence, Vittal wrote. 

Although council meetings are open to all arts and sciences faculty members, the eligible voters in the council are the department chairs and interdisciplinary program coordinators, Vittal wrote. The council, which also includes the dean of arts and sciences, the associate deans, the deans of Richmond College and Westhampton College, the university registrar and the university librarian, serves as a forum for discussion and providing advice and recommendations, but it has no legislative power within the School of Arts and Sciences, according to UR's website.

The Dec. 1 vote followed a presentation of the Africana studies program proposal by Atiya Husain, professor of sociology, and Armond Towns, professor of rhetoric and communications studies, to the council earlier this semester, Barney said. Husain and Towns led the faculty learning committee (FLC) that developed the proposal, Husain said. 

Husain credited the FLC with producing the proposal and acknowledged the influence of the Africana Studies Student Committee, which published a proposal for an Africana studies department in February this year, initiating the campaign for Africana studies at UR.

The development of the proposal was also a result of support from staff, faculty and administration, Husain said.

"In workshopping the proposal across campus, a lot of people have contributed to it and had a hand in shaping what this eventual program would look like," she said.

After reading the student committee's proposal for an Africana studies department, Husain and Towns applied to create the Africana studies FLC in May, Husain said. The 11-member FLC's goals were to discuss Africana studies, educate the UR community about the subject and put together a proposal for the program, Husain said.

Whereas the student committee's proposal called for an Africana studies department, the FLC's proposal is for an academic program, which will hopefully later become a department, senior and member of the student committee, Kayla Corbin said.

While creating the proposal, Husain and Towns focused on contacting different departments and programs to educate faculty members about the proposal and gather feedback, Towns said. Thanks to this outreach, people at the council meeting had already been part of the conversation and had helped build the proposal, he said.      

The effort Husain and Towns had made to inform faculty about the proposal explained why little discussion occurred at the Dec. 1 council meeting before the vote, Barney said.

"Everybody was just like, 'Let's do this,'" Barney said. "The energy was there to go forward with it."

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Leading up to the council meeting, the student committee organized an email campaign inviting students to send personalized emails to department chairs and program coordinators in support of the proposal, Corbin said. Every voting council member received at least one email from the campaign, she said.

Barney, who received some of these emails from students, thought it was an effective campaign, he said.

"I knew a couple of students who worked on the proposal, but this was a chance to hear from more students that I hadn't met before," he said. "They were so excited about this proposal and knew the power of this for our university, and I just thought the emails were well written and thoughtful in the way that they were targeted."

School of Arts and Sciences faculty will discuss the proposed Africana studies program at a faculty meeting on Dec. 7, wrote Michelle Hamm, School of Arts and Sciences faculty chair and a chemistry professor, in an email to The Collegian.

At this meeting, faculty members will consider a motion to use an online ballot format to vote on the creation of an Africana studies program, Hamm wrote. If the motion passes, faculty members will have about a week to vote on the creation of the program using the online ballot, she wrote.

Corbin said the student committee was feeling hopeful looking forward to the faculty vote, but noted that she was aware the outcome could differ from that of the council vote.

"I think what we've done a good job [of] is making sure that [the Africana studies program] is going to work with the other departments and not take from the other departments, but that's always a fear of course," she said. "And I haven't seen it manifest yet, but it could in certain professors and how they vote."

But Corbin is excited about the potential for a program to come from the process, she said.

"Right now there are no guarantees, but we are looking very hopeful," she said. 

Towns also feels optimistic about the outcome of the faculty vote.

"We imagine [the council vote outcome] is kind of like a microcosm of the university's view of this proposal, like it's an overwhelming, 'Yes,'" he said. "We're imagining [the faculty vote] will, to some extent, mirror our Academic Council meeting."

If the faculty votes to approve the proposal, it will go through several more steps, including a recommendation to the provost and a Virginia state accreditation board, Towns said.

Although many steps are necessary to create an academic program, Barney said the most inspiring part of the process for him had been seeing the way students had taken action.

"As a teacher, you just love to see students applying all this knowledge that they learned in the classroom to say, 'Hey, wait a second–I can do something about this,'" he said. "'I'm not just learning about resistance in my classes. I can enact resistance and I can enact change.'"

For Corbin, this change is on the horizon, and she cannot wait to see it.

"I'm grateful and I'm absolutely humbled and it hasn't hit me yet, the impact that this is gonna make," she said. "But I'm hoping in a few years when I look back, I'm able to really take it in."

Contact multimedia editor Nina Joss at nina.joss@richmond.edu.

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