Africana studies minor gains administrative support

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Dean of the College Jorge Gonzalez announced the drafting of a proposal for a new minor in Africana Studies following a yearlong campaign by students and faculty to add the program to Occidental’s academic curriculum. The proposal represents the first concrete step toward the implementation of the minor.

“We are currently recruiting up to five faculty members to develop an Africana Studies minor; to be supported with stipends provided by my office. I expect and look forward to additional curricular initiatives and proposals to come to my office and the [Academic Planning Committee],” Gonzalez said in a letter published online last December.

Gonzalez later said that after he receives the proposal, department chairs will meet to discuss and make suggestions for the program. The original faculty group will then be able to make changes to the proposal before sending it to the Academic Planning Committee (APC), a body of the faculty that is responsible for looking over the curriculum of the college. Once the committee approves the proposal, it will be brought up at the next faculty meeting for discussion among the faculty at large, then put to a vote at the following meeting. If the faculty votes in favor of the final proposal, the minor will be officially added to the catalog for the following academic year.

According to Associate Dean for Core Curriculum and Student Issues John Swift, there is still work to be done before the proposal can be submitted.

“I’d say that Africana Studies is in early stages, and there’s no single proposal ready to be presented to the Academic Planning Committee,” Swift said. “Whatever comes of it will need to have a clear mission, curriculum and staffing plan. It seems unlikely to me that a program will be in place in the next academic year.”

Earlier this semester, Swift met with associate professor of history Sharla Fett, assistant professor of English and Comparative Literature Studies James Ford, professor of Politics Regina Freer, adjunct assistant professor of music Simeon Pillich and associate professor of Religious Studies Kristi Upson-Saia to discuss the goals and challenges of creating an Africana Studies program at Occidental. The group researched similar programs at peer institutions to guide its decision-making process.

“We agreed that anything that we might develop at Occidental should be free-standing and significantly autonomous in other words, not simply a collection of existing courses in different academic departments and that for that reason it would need to have dedicated faculty and not rely solely on the faculty who are now teaching those existing courses,” Swift said.

Discussion of the new minor began at Occidental last year, when former Black Student Alliance president Brandi Locke ’13 created an online petition for bringing an Africana Studies department to campus. The initiative rapidly found student support, amassing hundreds of signatures in under a week. The conversation continued in fall 2013 when the Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE) listed an Africana Studies program as part of its “29 Actions to Achieve Equity and Excellence” petition.

In spite of the administration’s approval of the Africana Studies minor, members of CODE have stated that their work with Gonzalez, Swift and the ACP is just getting started.

“CODE is currently pressuring administration to see through the installation of the Africana Studies program. We are also making sure the process goes according to plan,” sociology major and CODE member David Pino (senior) said in an email.

According to Swift and Gonzalez, there is no hard deadline for the minor’s implementation and it will not likely be an option for students next year.