Program calls for major in African-American studies

By Michael Logli

A student social protest in 1969 sparked the first University academic program centered around African-American history and concerns, but it was not until 10 years later that the African American Studies and Research Program was established.

While the program has grown its presence on campus, creating graduate minors and concentrations in 2006, a proposal presented at Monday’s Urbana-Champaign Senate meeting could turn the program into the Department of African American Studies and create a new major, said Jennifer Hamer, the program’s acting director.

“Ethnic units are often not perceived as equal to other units,” Hamer said. “This is a unit that is no different from any other discipline.”

Hamer said the program is just changing its name to better reflect the way it has functioned since 2003. The organization has hired its own faculty and staff and created 43 new courses in the past six years. The number of students enrolled has also increased. According to the senate proposal, enrollment has increased from 296 to more than 2,500 since the fall 2000 semester.

Other than the addition of the new African American Studies major, Hamer said there would be no immediate changes in the program if it became a department. No new faculty would be hired and the program’s size would remain the same.

“With any new major, it’s a process,” Hamer said. “We have to let students know that we are out there.”

A department centered on African-American studies is not a new idea either. Many other universities, including Northwestern, Syracuse and the University of Illinois at Chicago, have an African American Studies department.

“It’s a true discipline,” Hamer said. “It tries to understand the black perspective from a holistic approach.”