Director of Africana studies works to revive program
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 02:02
Faced with a declining number of applicants, Texas A&M faculty is working to preserve and fortify the Africana studies program in the College of Liberal Arts.
Violet Johnson, director of Africana studies and history professor, said the number of students in the program has been healthy, but has decreased in the past two years. Johnson said she wants to bring new life to the department.
“I’m really anxious to have students, faculty and the larger community know about the things we have been doing,” Johnson said. “Call me overly optimistic, but I think that if people knew as much about what we are doing, there would be more interest, there would be more involvement and more engagement, so I want it out there.”
Africana studies is an interdisciplinary program that offers a minor and a graduate certificate program, and focuses on the cultures, politics and histories of people of African descent.
“It seems that interest for the minor has dwindled, which is one of my challenges,” Johnson said. “I want to not only be able to restart the interest in the minor, but actually to grow that interest and have students more involved and desirous of taking courses in Africana studies.”
Johnson said she wants to eventually offer a major, but ultimately depends on student interest to make that happen.
“The minor is one of the most solid minors I’ve seen in Africana studies,” Johnson said. “The curriculum is really deep. That is why I think it is ready to move on to introducing a major.”
In response to the interest deficit, Johnson has embarked on various initiatives designed to elevate interest levels. These initiatives include personally attending classes related to Africana studies to talk to students about the opportunities Africana studies offers to complement their major.
Illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of the field, the core staff of Africana Studies is composed entirely of joint-appointed faculty.
Phia Salter, professor of psychology and Africana studies, said each joint-appointed faculty member teaches courses in both of their departments.
“We all have classes related to Africana studies,” Salter said. “As a jointly appointed person, I ‘owe’ classes to both the psychology department and to Africana studies.”
Johnson said there are joint appointments in the Departments of Anthropology, English, Performance Studies, Hispanic Studies, Communications, Psychology and History.
To further her efforts of developing the program, Johnson encourages student involvement and thrives on feedback, particularly through the evaluations that are given after open houses, in-house residencies by performing artists, panels featuring directors of documentaries and various seminars.
“The evaluation tells us how this went and how to proceed in the future,” Johnson said. “Data will detail how to improve and how to move forward based on the feedback.”
Among the students who support Johnson’s efforts is senior international studies major, Diamilatou Sow. Sow minors in both French and Africana studies.
“If everything goes as [Johnson] says it will go, it will be a great department because she has great ideas and she’s willing to work at it,” Sow said. “I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Johnson on some of the things she is coming up this semester.”
Salter believes that what holds many students back from getting involved in Africana Studies is not knowing how it could be beneficial to them in the future.
“We are living in an increasingly diverse place and in order to function in society, you are going to have to know how to navigate interacting with different people,” Salter said. “In the job market, as there is more competition for fewer jobs, you also need to credential yourself. If you know how to be a culturally competent person, I think it’s important in that it makes the world a better place.”