Black studies programs on the rise

Though some research has suggested that the number of African-American studies programs at universities is declining, a new study says these programs are growing — and UNC-system schools are looking to continue that trend.

A national survey published last month by the University of Illinois found that 76 percent of the nearly 1,800 universities surveyed had some form of black studies programs or departments.

In North Carolina, only two UNC-system schools — UNC-CH and UNC-Charlotte — have an independent African-American studies department, said Akin Ogundiran, department chairman of UNC-C’s Africana studies program.

But most of the 16 system universities have some type of black studies program, and many are looking to expand.

“Understanding race is essential to understanding North Carolina in all parts of history in the state,” said Kenneth Janken, director of undergraduate studies and department honors at UNC-CH’s Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies.

Despite scrutiny surrounding the department in the last few years, the number of students in UNC-CH’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies doubled from 2010 to 2011 — and enrollment increased again in 2012.

Though graduation rates from the department decreased from 102 students in spring of 2012 to 86 last spring, the number of students majoring and minoring has steadily risen since 2009, according to the UNC-CH registrar’s office.

Sheila Smith McKoy, director of the Africana studies program at N.C. State University, said she hopes to grow N.C. State’s program into a department to be able to retain more students and maintain relevance.

Tara T. Green, director and associate professor at the African-American studies program at UNC-Greensboro, said in an email UNC-G’s program is also seeing demand grow quickly.

And the expansion of UNC-system programs is vital, considering an increasingly more diverse population in North Carolina, Ogundiran said.

He said when he started work at UNC-C in 2008 the program had only 27 students, but that number has doubled each year since.

“Our department is so important in a world so interconnected and focused on increased globalization,” Ogundiran said.

Will Hope, a fall 2012 UNC-CH graduate who took AFRI 101 and AFAM 101 as a biology major, said the classes motivated him to consider doing mission work in Africa.

“I ended up learning a lot about Africa, and the class broke down a lot of misconceptions,” Hope said.

Darryl Lester, interim assistant director of N.C. State’s African American Cultural Center, said the programs will continue to adapt to maintain relevance.

“You still have people in society that believe people of color haven’t made significant contributions to society,” Lester said. “These programs teach courses that are inclusive and allow you to learn so much more about the world around you, not just Africa.”

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