Following the announcement of the closure of the Africa Center last spring, students mobilized in protest against what we rightly perceived as a marginalization of the study of an entire continent, its billion people, their cultures, languages, histories, economies and institutions. We were told not to worry, that the College of Arts and Sciences’ decision to have the Department of Africana Studies subsume the African Studies Program would not change a thing for African studies majors and minors. We suspected we weren’t being given the full story, and now unfortunately our fears are being confirmed.
The Penn African Studies Undergraduate Advisory (PASUA), which formed this past summer following the subsumption of our African Studies Program, learned on Thursday that the Department of Africana Studies’ faculty will be considering a proposal to eliminate African studies as an independent major and minor, folding African studies into their Africana studies major and minor. If the proposal is adopted, students interested in African studies will only have the option to concentrate on Africa as a part of their larger Africana studies major or minor. For those of us who have proudly declared ourselves as African studies majors and minors, this proposal does not take into account our academic needs. African studies is its own independent discipline and deserves to be considered as such.
African studies and Africana studies are two distinct academic fields. African studies focuses solely on the study of the African continent. Africana studies focuses on African diasporas throughout the world, primarily in the Americas. The studies of regions and diasporas are two very different things. For this reason, the Department of Africana Studies’ proposal to lump the study of the African continent into a greater diasporic Africana major is unacceptable. Every other region of the world has a major devoted to its study. This proposal will not simply relegate the study of Africa to the lowest rung of the ladder of academia, but it will kick us off the ladder entirely. The African studies major at Penn would no longer exist.
According to the Africana studies administration, eliminating the African studies major is necessary because it cannot handle the duties of administering two separate majors. However, considering that 10 of the College’s 27 departments currently administer two or more distinct majors, why is the Department of Africana Studies unable of doing what its peer departments do? This proposal seems like an elective logistical choice rather than a financial necessity.
The proposed elimination of the African studies major was drafted without any consultation with students or faculty. It was wrong when the opinions of those who study and teach African studies were ignored last spring when the Africa Center was closed. It is just as wrong now that administrators in the Department of Africana Studies are actively choosing to plow ahead with this proposal without considering the views of those whom it will affect the most: African studies students.
In addition to African studies majors, this proposal also undercuts the perspective of students from Africa and the African diaspora. As one of us is from the African continent, this proposal is akin to telling us that the study of her people is not deserving of its own major. While we recognize that African and Africana studies are linked, there is a rich history and future in the African continent that Africana studies doesn’t encapsulate. A proposal such as this undercuts one of Penn’s objectives to be an a school that promotes inclusion and the ability to study and pursue our passions.
The vast majority of the 11 Africana studies faculty members who will be voting on this proposal do not study the African continent and therefore do not possess the African studies expertise necessary to make a fair determination of whether the African studies major should be eliminated. This situation is no different than having a group of biology professors decide whether or not to eliminate the physics major. Absurd? We think so too.
Over the past year, no other majors and minors on this campus have had to deal with such administrative nonsense as those in African studies. Let’s leave African studies to the Africanists shall we. Mutual respect for one another’s disciplines does not come about through a forced union of the two. African studies is not Africana studies, nor should it be.
DAVID SCOLLAN is a College junior studying African studies and political science and is a founding member of the Penn African Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board (PASUA).
TUNMISE FAWOLE is a College junior studying health and societies and a co-chair of UMOJA.
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