News

Curriculum Gains New Africana Studies Major

by Robert Abare '13
Two students doing a public reading
Gladys McLean '14 (left) and Cidney Holliday '15 were among members of Davidson's slam poetry group FreeWord who performed as part of Martin Luther King Day activities last year. Holliday will be one of the college's first African Studies majors.

Starting this fall, Davidson students may elect to major in Africana Studies, the newest addition to the college's major fields of study. Pioneered by Professor of Anthropology Nancy Fairly, Professor of History Dan Aldridge, Associate Professor and Chair of Educational Studies Hilton Kelly and faculty in other departments, the interdisciplinary major allows students to study the history and cultures of the African diaspora.

The Africana Studies major will focus on studying people throughout the world who are descended from Africans. "Any student majoring in Africana Studies will be using the lives, history and culture of African peoples to understand something about the world," explained Kelly. 

He added, "Africana studies is not just about identity. It's about inequality, it's also about the cultural products of Africa in language, art and music."

The core course of the major will the interdisciplinary course, Africana Studies 101. Aldridge explained, "The course will be taught by one person, though other faculty teaching subjects related to Africana Studies will present guest lectures. This smattering of different subjects will help students hone their studies in the future."

Kelly explained that the Africana Studies faculty also face challenges in determining how to present the broad, globally influential subject to students. "Some scholars believe African Americans are American, while others think we are distinctly African," he said. "The curriculum can similarly focus on either Africa or America."

Kelly will teach classes for the new major in his academic area of specialty—African Americans living in the Jim Crow South. Aldridge will teach courses on African American history since the end of the Civil War, and Fairley will teach courses on African anthropology. Other faculty, including Associate Professor of French Caroline Beschea-Fache and Professor of English Brenda Flanagan will contribute courses to the major in their respective academic fields.

"There are many visions for the future of Africana studies, and we have to figure out what suits Davidson best," said Kelly.

Cidney Holliday '15 is pleased that Davidson is adding the Africana Studies major, and plans to write a thesis on the expansion of the African diaspora culture into Cuba and Brazil. "I remember when I looked at Davidson as a prospective student, I was frustrated that Davidson didn't offer an Africana studies program," she said. "Maybe other people like me will now look at Davidson's major offerings and think that the curriculum is suitably broad."

She continued, "Adding Africana studies is also great because students who may not want to major in the subject can still take the introductory course and learn more about the African diaspora."

Kelly voiced similar satisfaction with the addition of the new major. "I've wanted to see an Africana Studies program at Davidson since I set foot on campus in 2007," he said. "I was surprised that a college in the South did not already have a African American or Africana Studies program."

Aldridge asserted that the addition of the Africana Studies major will benefit the entire student body. "This is not a civil rights initiative or identity politics trope," he said. "This is meant to be a major for everyone."

Aldridge continued, "Africana Studies adds a major that is relevant to contemporary society."