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Students portray what classroom will look like while wearing a mask and social distancing as part of a setup photoshoot in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building on July 9.

UT is currently planning to expand the Africana Studies program into its own department.

Africana Studies focuses on educating students on Africa, the African people and the African Diaspora, which covers those of African descent worldwide. Africana Studies has operated as a field of study at the university for 52 years.

The chair of the Africana Studies program, Professor Shayla C. Nunnally, discussed the program becoming its own department.

“We are reviewing our course offerings to enhance our curriculum and possible study concentrations,” Nunnally said. “We are expanding our faculty across disciplines to offer more specialization across the Diaspora.”

She said that by making Africana Studies into a department, “it will give it new prominence in the university” while opening up its “excellent educational experience” for students. She explained the kinds of experiences that they offer.

“The program trains students from different backgrounds to explore and understand the culture, language, history, politics and relevant issues of various ethnic groups and nations by using a variety of intellectual tools, including critical interdisciplinary and multicultural approaches, theories and comparative methodologies,” Nunnally said. “For its majors and minors, Africana Studies offers general and specialized training to prepare them to be productive and responsible global citizens.”

“The program trains all students to become lifelong learners who are prepared not only for further educational opportunities, but also for creative and critical thinking skills that will allow them to succeed in an evolving and diverse job market,” Nunnally said.

Nunnally talked about the importance and added benefits of making Africana Studies into a department.

“Interdisciplinary programs share tenure-line research faculty from other departments, and … these faculty members are jointly-appointed between a department and a program,” Nunnally said.

“In becoming a department, Africana Studies will recruit and mentor its own tenure-track faculty. Its leader (Nunnally) … will become a department head, which will give her a seat at the table with other department heads in (the College of) Arts and Sciences and authority over its budget.”

By becoming a department, the program will also see an increase in funding for resources.

The university’s provost, John Zomchick, also talked about the program and his eagerness to turn it into a department.

“Africana Studies is a very important and thriving program and after more than 50 years, its elevation to a department is really overdue,” Zomchick said. “By expanding our faculty and our course offerings, we’ll be able to offer our campus more opportunities for insight into the conditions that shaped the African Diaspora and the experiences, challenges and triumphs of African Americans.”

He added that they “are excited to build on what is already a vibrant program” as they teach more within this field along with all of its “rich variety.”

This expansion comes after a recent scandal which shook the program. It involved an Africana Studies professor who wrote a racial slur on a white board as part of a class, according to the Daily Beacon.

Nunnally discussed the program’s response to this scandal.

“As an academic unit committed to research, teaching and service to support knowledge- building about people of African descent, our aim is to enhance our effectiveness in communicating this information to our community and beyond,” Nunnally said. “We will be discussing ways to approach our teaching and engagement with difficult subjects. We also will be inviting scholars with expertise on these subjects to help us in this process.”

The program provided a longer apology on their website. They want to learn from this event and use it as a teaching moment.

They hope that the program’s transformation into a department will continue to educate students on this field of study.

“In order to prepare for the future, we must keep an eye toward the past,” Nunnally said. “This is symbolic of the Akan saying, ‘Sankofa!’ which also undergirds the theme of our 50+ anniversary.”

She added that she hopes “the program continues to grow in order to continue building on a legacy of groundbreaking knowledge and understanding about people within the African Diaspora.”

The program continues to teach students Africana Studies this semester and will apply for departmental status in the next academic year. Classes operate in-person, online or as a mixture of the two. Students can obtain either a major or minor in the program.

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