Africana Studies program to be created, goals to expand awareness and understanding of the past and present

Photo%3A+Utica+College+and+the+UC+Media+Relations+Team

Photo: Utica College and the UC Media Relations Team

Nick McAdam, Editor-in-Chief

A vote took place among faculty members at Utica College on Dec. 2 to make the decision on the Africana Studies Program to officially become a minor, expanding to touch most departments of study.

Students will be required to take six courses to complete the requirements of the program including the studies of Africa and the African Diaspora; how the continent and the movement of people throughout history has affected the Eastern and Western Hemisphere, along with the continent itself.

Concentrations will also be created for the minor focusing on five different regions including Africa, African-American, Afro-Latin American, North Africa and the Middle East. 

The program, created and brought forward by Assistant Professor of History Clemmie Harris, aims to recognize history in the global, national and local context while strengthening students’ mindsets before entering a pre-professional program.

“We’re at a part in our history right now where we are trying to talk about race within institutions,” Harris said. “Most of the nation recognizes that these issues exist, but very little have a complete understanding of them.”

Courses also intend to dive into individual impacts on respective societies. A focus will be on movement from culture-to-culture and what impacts an individual or a group of individuals brings, how they are received by indigenous people and what laws are created as a result.

Harris also explained the gap that exists in education between courses required for students throughout K-12 and beyond to secondary education. He said students take a preset amount of courses covering certain subjects and then their requirement is complete. From there, a select few students may take a course as an elective, but that choice is left up to them.

Yet, Harris believes institutions should take a firm stance in creating educational initiatives that make programs such as Africana Studies a core part of a student’s education.

“This program has taken over 50 years to get to the college,” Harris said. “I’m not really sure why, but I do know that change comes very slow. President Laura Casamento has made this central to her strategic plan to make sure Utica College is a space for everybody. I believe the college is slowly working toward recognizing its own history.”

The college was structured around the GI Bill created near the end of the second world war to give returning troops a place of higher education to easily affiliate into the rapidly changing society, primarily due to the Industrial Revolution and the technological and economical advancements after the war.

Yet, the language in the GI Bill excluded around 1.2 million African-American men from its benefits. For example, while many white Americans were guaranteed housing in Levittown, New York, the suburb was not open to Black Americans who served in the war.

The college aims to serve its new initiatives, however, which include a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. And though the Curriculum Committee at the college was against a deadline to make a decision on each step of the program, members made it a priority that these courses were pushed through.

“We were up against a deadline, so as a Committee, we made it a priority to ensure these courses go through because Dr. Harris conveyed the fact that there were a handful of Utica College students that needed these courses to finish their undergraduate experience with an Africana Studies minor, which, for the college and our students, is a big deal,” Associate Professor of Management and Business Analytics Brett Orzechowski said. “Those students can now take those courses in the spring and graduate with those credentials.”

Orzechowski believes that the college talks about initiatives surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion, but this course is the action that extends beyond the talk.

“Programs like this are long overdue at the college, but most importantly, overdue for our students,” he said. “One of the first conversations I had with Dr. Harris when he arrived is that we talk a lot about diversity and interdisciplinarity in the curriculum for our students, but actual action on concepts like this should happen more often. This is action.”

Harris wants to give students the key to a mindset that promotes freedom of thought and inclusivity for all in the professional workplace. Once students achieve positions of power, the hope is that they will remember these concepts that the college served. In other words, education is the tool that reconstructs the hierarchies we have created for society and culture.

“The march for progress is not for one generation but for succeeding generations,” Harris said. “The way humanity progresses is through education.”