American studies professors submit a proposal for a curriculum in black studies

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A Black Studies courses flyer as seen at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Harrison Kallner/Occidental Weekly

American studies professors Erica Ball and Courtney Baker submitted a proposal for a curriculum in black studies Oct. 31, according to a press release that they released Nov. 9. According to the Faculty Handbook, the Academic Planning Committee reviews proposals and makes a recommendation to all members of the faculty. The college’s press release states that the full faculty will review it during the spring. If the faculty members accept the proposal, students will be able to declare black studies majors and minors during the Fall 2018 semester.

According to “Occidental College: A Centennial History,” by Andrew Rolle ’43, student advocacy for expanded black studies offerings at the college dates back to May 24, 1968, when Occidental’s Black Student Caucus made a list of demands that included a request for the addition of four courses focusing on African-American history. Most recently, Oxy United for Black Liberation (OUBL) called for a fully funded and staffed black studies program in their list of 14 demands during the Arthur G. Coons Occupation in November 2015. Anna Palmer (junior), one of four designated photographers for the movement, created and updated OUBL’s website and created Youtube videos documenting the events. Palmer said that she believes the movement forced the administration to take steps to develop a black studies program.

“It wasn’t on the list of to-dos [for the administration],” Palmer said. “I think it’s a shift in frameworks of thought and theoretical ideas of what’s acceptable to teach within an institution and within academia.”

Palmer said that on the list of 14 demands, the demand for black studies was one of the most important to her.

“That was, I think, probably the top one for me, along with hiring other faculty of color and Emmons staff of color,” Palmer said.

Palmer, a sociology major, said that she will likely be unable to graduate with a major or minor in black studies because she will have too little time to complete the requirements. She said that she would have majored in black studies had it been available earlier.

Courtesy of Harrison Kallner/Occidental Weekly

“I wish I could have been a major for sure. I think I would have majored in that and probably double majored in something else,” Palmer said.

Reilly Torres (junior) said that she believes she will be able to graduate with a minor in black studies because she has already taken numerous courses with Ball, Baker and other professors that will count toward the new minor.

“I’m an American studies major, so basically I’m kind of creating my own black studies major within that,” Torres said. “All the classes I’m taking are basically black studies-focused, but I think next year I’ll be able to graduate with a minor because I already have so many classes within that field, but I don’t think I can do the full major.”

Torres said that she is regretful that an official curriculum was not available earlier. According to her, she still feels she was able to create the education that she wanted for herself.

“I do wish that I was coming in as a first year right now and I’d be able to have black studies be my primary focus and be able to really take advantage of it,” Torres said. “But also I think I’ve gotten more or less the same education because I did start my sophomore year taking classes with these professors who are spearheading it.”

According to Torres, the American studies department may look very different after Ball and Baker move to the black studies department.

“I think it [the American studies department] will be affected because I know that those classes are a big draw right now for a lot of people — that they know about American studies because of the classes that are more black studies-focused and that those classes have really high enrollment,” Torres said.

Torres said that she hopes the black studies program will take the same interdisciplinary approach that has been present in her black studies-focused coursework and add a more global perspective. Palmer also said that she hopes for an interdisciplinary curriculum.

“I envision it being interdisciplinary, being something that doesn’t essentialize what blackness can look like, and it being hopefully very supported by faculty and admin and students and staff and everyone,” Palmer said.

According to the college’s press release, students majoring and minoring in black studies will be required to take classes in three areas: Historical Perspectives, Expressive Forms and Politics and Theory. Baker will teach Introduction to Black Studies (AMST 110) — an additional departmental requirement — in Spring 2018. Baker and Ball sent a full list of the Spring 2018 black studies courses, including 11 courses with a primary focus on black studies and six courses of interest to black studies students, to the student body Oct. 30 and again in the students digest email Nov. 6.

According to the press release, Baker and Ball have taken care and time to author a compelling proposal.

“I believe that we have put together a strong proposal that reflects the strengths of Oxy’s faculty in this area and will give students a robust education in the field that is on par with that of other institutions,” Baker said in the college press release.