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How 4 faculty helped create Columbia’s first African American and African Diaspora studies department

Historians in the News
tags: education, African American history, Columbia, African Diaspora



After decades of activism surrounding the University’s lack of dedicated scholarship to issues of race and ethnicity, Columbia approved its first African American and African Diaspora studies department last fall. Here, in light of Black History Month, some of those who made it happen reflect on the push for change in a slow-moving world of academia.

For faculty who came to teach at the Institute for Research in African American Studies, there was a general consensus on Columbia’s narrative of African American and African Diaspora history: The story extends far beyond what was present in the University’s curriculum.

The scholarship of African American and African Diaspora studies traces through a number of unofficial and official pathways, following the teachings of Zora Neale Hurston, BC ’28 and Barnard’s first black graduate, George Edmund Haynes, SSW ’12 and co-founder of the National Urban League, and Marcellus Blount, a well-known scholar of African-American literary and cultural studies and professor, among many others.

The number of students looking to pursue African-American studies as a major grew significantly during the 1960s, but Columbia quickly fell behind peer institutions by failing to create a department that could meet the demand for courses.

Read entire article at Columbia Spectator

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