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History of African American Studies

1970- 1979

In the Spring of 1970, the Faculty Senate of the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education(HSSE)expressed its growing concern for diversity by accepting a plan for the initiation of an Afro-Studies program. 
By 1975, a center/program had been established under the coordination of Dr. Samuel Hay, a faculty member in the Creative and Visual Arts Department. Its new name was the Africana Studies and Research Center. The center/program offered no courses but did encourage departments to offer and develop courses relating to the African American experience. In 1978, Darlene Clark Hine, associate professor of history , became the interim director and initiated the first course offering developed by the center/program.
The center/program was authorized one graduate assistant (.SFTE). That person, Deborah McDowell .is now a noted professor of English and prolific writer.


By 1980, the program had a new director, Dr. Melvin D. Williams, professor of anthropology. The program focused on oral history research projects and, to that end. received funding from the Lilly Endowment for a project entitled “Black Churches in Lafayette. A Study and Planning Committee for African Studies was established and issued a report to Robert L. Ringel, Dean of HSSE. (Complete text follows). During this time period, the center offered 3 courses under the GS- General Studies designator. These were:

      GS270 Issues in Africana Studies

      GS370 Introduction to African Studies

      GS371 Black Personal Development


In 1985, the center was under a new director, Dr. Ceola Ross Baber, faculty in social studies education. Once again the name changed , now to Tire African-American Studies Center. During this time period, the center assumed sole administrative responsibility for Soul Plus Radio Magazine - formerly a shared project between Africana Studies, the Department of Communication, and the Office of the Dean of Students. The program served as an internship for students majoring in communications and was designed to be a vehicle to inform and educate the university and community about the Black experience(Refer to Section - Soul Plus). The center also assumed administrative responsibility for the H.H. Remmers Memorial A ward, a then $500.00 award to an African American graduate student majoring in the social sciences. The award was expanded to both a master’s and doctoral level recipient and increased to $1000.00 each(Refer to section on AWARDS).

Dr. Carolyn E. Johnson, senior research associate became the project coordinator for a major funded project (Lilly Endowment) “Evaluation of the Tout/i Development Project”. Internationalizing the focus of the program was also a responsibility for Dr. Johnson and this was done through funded grants enabling visiting scholars from the Caribbean and Africa -- as well as, program presenters from around the globe. Included in this group were notables such as Dr. John Kurewa, then Secretary to the Zimbabawe Parliament and now president of the new Africa University in Old Mutare, ZimbabweDr. Manning Marable, professor in sociology was brought in to the University to serve as senior scholar for the program and a professional staff position - senior research associate was created.

Requirements for a major and minor in African American Studies were developed. The Black Personal Development course was discontinued and a new course, IDIS 372 The Economics of Black America was developed. The other two courses were renamed and sequenced under the new IDIS (Interdisciplinary Studies designator) resulting in

IDIS 271 Introduction of African American Studies (Spring only)

IDIS 373 Issues in African American Studies(Fall only)


Dr. Carolyn E. Johnson, senior research associate served as interim director and the name became The African American Studies and Research Center. A new course on the Black Family was developed in cooperation with the department of Child Development and Family Studies in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences. A new course, IDIS 371 The Black Experience, was developed and approved for variable topics. A third new course, The Black Male, was added to our schedule. This time period marks the initiation of the core course being offered spring and fall.For some time, office space had been a critical issue for the unit as well as lack of technical support and equipment. Two studies, one a facilities audit, and another on computer needs were conducted as foundation for a proposal to the HSSE administrative. The proposals were approved resulting in new office space and the Center’s first word processor.


Leonard Harris, professor of philosophy became the new director of the African American Studies and Research Center. Under his leadership, the program initiated a strategic planning process for development. The resulting goals were to focus on identity and community; increase faculty lines; increase the number of graduate teaching assistants; create a distinct budgetary research function; and expand our curricular offerings to include graduate courses. These goals have all been met and are detailed in the body of this report.

1998- 2002

Tracy Sharply-Whiting became Director of African American Studies. Our Study Abroad for Maymester and Summer modules 1 and 11 and developed.

2003- Present 

Dr. Venetria K. Patton became director of African American Studies & Research Center. Affiliate faculty was  also added to African American Studies to enhance classes offered. Dr. Patton added a yearly trip for Graduates and Undergraduates to present at the National Council for Black Studies.  Dr. Patton has sent student to NBCS with the help of the Deans office since she became director.  In 2009 our designator changed from IDIS to AAS.