The African American Studies Program and the Provost’s Committee on Diversity created a petition to establish an African American studies major last Wednesday, five years after the idea was first discussed.
The petition calls for an increased allocation of resources and faculty to the African American Studies Program. The program currently consists of a minor as well as elective courses.
Student organizers of the petition declined to comment on the number of signatures received to date. As of press time, the Facebook event page of the petition has received over 200 RSVPs.
Director of African American Studies Robert J. Patterson said that the program and students on the Committee on Diversity will use the petition to assess student, faculty and alumni support for the major before submitting a proposal to the college dean’s office.
“The petition helps us to project how the major, and minor for that matter, might expand. … They have played an important role in making the case for this major,” Patterson said. “Students demonstrate demand by taking courses, and have expressed in numerous settings … that this major is something that they desire.”
Daniel Zager (COL ’18), a member of the provost’s Committee on Diversity, said that the committee will continue to advocate for increased support for the major.
“Our role as students so far has mainly been to connect with other students, survey interest in the potential major and gain student support for this proposal,” Zager said.
The idea for the major program came as a result of recommendations from the Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness in 2010. The petition also comes after the Main Campus Executive Faculty voted in favor of adding a diversity requirement to the core curriculum in April 2015.
According to Patterson, the proposed major will address a series of topics that relate to African American history and culture.
“[It would include] issues of race and power, issues of epistemology and cultural production, the improvement of black life [and] how globalization has affected our study of race,” Patterson said.
Currently, a preliminary description for the major includes its requirement of the “Introduction to African American Studies” course. The major will also include a thesis-based capstone course that students would take their junior or senior year.
According to Patterson, the major will require a total of 10 courses, and will be divided into two concentrations, which have yet to be determined.
Patterson said that, although he hopes the major will be in effect by next fall, it would require a large amount of work for both himself and his team.
“Part of my responsibility is to oversee the curriculum, and so, in that capacity, I have been working with a group of faculty members for the past two years to do the necessary research, gather the necessary information to make sure that we have the resources, the demand and even the institutional support to move forward with creating the major,” Patterson said.
Patterson also said that submitting a proposal for the major will be an extensive process. For instance, students campaigned for nearly a year and a half before the justice and peace studies major was established.
“The next part of the process involves submitting the proposal that justifies the reasons for going from a minor to a major, the requirements of the major, the resources that we would need in terms of faculty and finances and other related issues,” Patterson said.
After the proposal is submitted to the College Dean’s Office, the Curriculum Committee of the College Executive Council will review the proposal and provide a report with feedback and suggestions before voting on the proposal.
If the Dean’s Office is in favor of the proposal, it will go to the university’s board of directors for a vote.
Many faculty members have expressed their support for the major, citing the importance of the African American Studies Program.
College Dean Chester Gillis said that the major would be a good addition to the school considering its increasing popularity.
“I think this will be a valuable addition provided that there is sufficient demand for it,” Gillis said. “I think African American studies is an important program. It represents an important community, an important literature and history and academic discipline.”
Marcia Chatelain, a professor of history who is also in the African American Studies Program and an associate professor in the Department of History, said that the addition of the major will put Georgetown on the same level as other elite universities who already have such programs.
“If Georgetown decides to create an African American studies major, we will join other elite universities and the finest Catholic universities in ensuring that students can focus their intellectual interests within a field that has produced some of the most important and relevant scholarship over the course of nearly 50 years,” Chatelain wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Zager agreed that the establishment of an African American studies major is overdue, when compared to peer institutions. For instance, Princeton University began offering an African American studies major this academic year.
“As for the major itself, it’s long overdue. Many of our peer institutions are already far ahead of us in instituting the major, and, simply put, only having a minor at Georgetown is not enough to study the topic in depth,” Zager said.
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