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African American Studies expands course offerings starting Spring 2021

Boston University’s African American Studies Program building in Brookline. AFAM is expanding its program by offering more courses starting in the Spring. COURTESY OF BOSTON UNIVERSITY AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES PROGRAM

In response to rising student demand for humanities courses on Black studies and systemic racism, the Boston University African American Studies program will expand its course offerings beginning in the Spring 2021 semester. 

The expansion is part of an ongoing effort to turn African American Studies — known as AFAM — from a program into its own department with an academic major. AFAM currently offers a minor through the Center for the Humanities.

Five new courses will be added to the AFAM curriculum for the upcoming semesters, according to a BU Humanities web page.

These classes include “The Afro-Latino Memoir”; “Latinx Identities, Families and Communities”; and “African American Literature and Classical Tradition.” They will be taught by faculty from AFAM and the Kilachand Honors College.

English professor Maurice Lee, co-chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Action Team, will teach an African-American literature course in the Spring. He said the initiative was partially inspired by an influx of enrollment in courses on race. 

“The initiative came out after the summer protests,” Lee said. “A number of students were expressing the desire to have more courses that were focused on people of color.”

However, he said BU departments have been thinking about increasing the number of course offerings prior to this summer. 

“A number of programs and departments have already been moving in this direction,” Lee said. “I think adding student voices has just added more urgency and has helped accelerate the progress that has been made.”

Lee said he hopes AFAM will continue on its trajectory toward permanent expansion.

“I think the initiative is seen as a way to be a temporary solution to the problem,” Lee said, “but I don’t think anyone sees it as a long-term solution.”

Saida Grundy, assistant professor of AFAM and sociology, said the departmentalization of the program is an effort to address student demand.

“This is not a new thing,” Grundy said. “Every time that we see a new swell in demand from our students because there’s something happening in the public sphere around Black justice issues … our students are going to make the roar louder, and this is what they want.”  

Grundy said having an AFAM major will further fulfill the academic needs and desires of undergraduate students. 

“You might have an interest in Black economics. You might have an interest in Black political thought,” Grundy said. “That’s why we need a major, because nowhere else in our CAS curriculum can you really get that.”

Grundy said she would like to have seen these changes earlier, but is happy to see them made at all.

“We’re sort of making up some lost ground,” Grundy said. “We really have the right people to do it right now.”

She added that creating an AFAM major will be difficult, requiring many elements to come together at the right time. 

“It’s a lot of red tape,” Grundy said. “It’s like trying to get statehood for a state.” 

Kyna Hamill, director of the CAS Core Curriculum, will teach a course in Spring 2022 entitled “American Minstrelsy.” She said she developed the course based on curricula from her previous courses, which included discussions of Black representation in popular culture. 

Hamill, who serves on the Action Team, said the team is currently working to place a greater focus on race studies outside of AFAM in CAS courses. 

“The work is starting with, ‘Let’s see who considers their courses diverse,’” Hamill said, “and ‘Let’s do an inventory of those courses.’”

Whether AFAM is departmentalized will largely depend on student interest, Lee said. He added if more students take AFAM courses, the University might be more inclined to add courses and faculty to the program.

“Students vote with their feet,” Lee said.

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