Wednesday, March 01, 2000

Black studies gains status


Enrollments in major up at UC, Miami

BY EARNEST WINSTON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Yhana Turner said she learned in Cincinnati and Virginia public schools that African-American history started in America with slavery. As a major in African-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, she learned the history of her ancestors started in Africa.

        “I think what students don't know, and there's no reason to be surprised because they're not taught, is how much African-Americans created their own history,” said Dr. Keith Griffler, assistant professor in the department of African-American studies at UC. “The other thing that stands out is that it is assumed that Europeans created this country the way it is.”

AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES
AT A GLANCE
  • University of Cincinnati: About 60 majors currently; three majors in 1990.
  • Miami University: About 50 majors and minors now; three in 1990.
  • Northern Kentucky University: In 1990, two mi nors; 25 in 1995 and six last year.
  • Xavier University: Offers a minor.
  • Thomas More College: No program.
  • College of Mount St. Joseph: No program.
        Things are changing.

        Ms. Turner's experience is not uncommon, say professors and students, but there has been a recent surge in the number of students choosing African-American or black world studies as their major or minor.

        At UC, there were three African-American studies majors 10 years ago; there are about 60 today. At Miami UniversiTy, the number of majors and minors jumped from three to 50 during the same period. At Northern Kentucky University, where students can only minor in African-American studies, the numbers have fluctuated: In 1990, there were two minors, compared with 25 in 1995, and six last year.

        Xavier University offers a minor in black studies and women's studies. Thomas More College and the College of Mount St. Joseph do not have black studies' programs.

        UC and Miami professors say the growth of their programs has increased visibility and credibility.

        Black studies' programs and departments nationwide started in the 1960s because students demanded that stud ies reflect blacks, Asian-Americans and women.

        “This was a national movement to include more voices,” said Dr. Rodney D. Coates, director of black world studies and professor in the department of sociology, gerontology and anthropology at Miami University. Miami's black studies' program started in 1976; UC's department began in 1970.

        In the next decade, there was a national backlash. Conservative politics during the Ronald Reagan era created a “defensive attitude” toward black studies, Dr. Griffler said. As a result, programs had to justify their existence.

        Even though, Dr. Coates said, no one questions the history and legitimacy of American studies, we can't talk about America without talking about black history. “We can't talk about American history without talking about Africa,” said Dr. Coates.

        Interest picked up in the 1990s. Dr. Griffler said “the national atmosphere of the 1980s has worn off and there's a resurgence of a 1990s version of "black power,' which I think has played a crucial role in reinvigorating the field.”

        Black power is a term used to describe the concentration of political, economic and social structures in the African-American community, and giving it greater prominence in American society, Dr. Griffler said.

More opportunities
        With the growing emphasis on multicultural education, black studies' majors and minors have an added advantage in the work force, professor say.

        Black studies students are looking at jobs beyond the social sciences and education.

        Graduates are increasingly enrolling in graduate schools to study economics, history and urban planning. Others are going to medical or law school.

        “The more you know about specific groups of people, the more enhanced you are as a professional in a field such as business,” said Dr. Coates.

        Dr. Coates said employers tell him they want graduates who “not only know the business but specific populations.”

        “It gives them another edge. It gives them another tool they can use in whatever they chose to go in to.”

        Last month, Harvard Univer sity faculty members voted to create a new doctoral program in Afro-American studies, joining at least four other universities that already offer the degree.

        “The study of the African-American experience is as vital to a university education in the 21st century as it was a century ago, when the great (W.E.B.) DuBois foresaw prophetically that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of Harvard's Afro-American studies department, said in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

        UC's African-American studies department is reaching out to colleagues in other disciplines to teach courses that involve African-American issues.

        At Miami, the black world studies program is teaming with the women' studies program for a lecture series called “Race and Gender.”

        Miami's black world studies program is made up of faculty in other disciplines, such as professors who teach race and biology, the psychology of race and American politics and African-Americans.

        Ms. Turner, a senior, said she plans to attend graduate school this fall and study economics. She wants to bring employment opportunities to African-American communities.

        “I have to give back. I would feel guilty if I didn't help out other African-Americans,” said the 23-year-old Westwood resident.



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