American University unveiled their new major yesterday. To the shock of many, it's African American and African Diaspora Studies. While this is wonderful news, it's no secret that AU has a history of racial strife.
Earlier this year, bananas were hung by nooses, after previously being thrown at black women on campus. Only last week, someone hung confederate flags and cotton around campus. Therefore, the question must be posed: How will this new major affect race relations on campus?
AU has outlined their plan for the major and much of the coursework is already in place. In a press release, they explain that forging this new program is a powerful symbol that the university is committed to this vital subject matter.
“It really gives more visibility to a lot of the classes that have been offered on campus already. It gives us the opportunity to now think about expanding the offerings, and potentially down the road expanding the number of faculty we have on campus to teach in this field,” said Theresa Runstedtler, an associate history professor who chairs the collaborative overseeing the new major. “When you have something being offered as a major, it speaks to the importance of that field on a university campus.”
“We’re really excited about the launch of this. It’s been a long time coming,” she says. “It’s a way to really have a sustained conversation on this campus.”
There is an African American and African Diaspora Studies minor already that people are still welcome to take, but Runstedtler is also looking at the bigger picture of offering the course as a major.
“It’s also about saying, ‘We have to critically study this because we can’t contextualize the present without understanding the historical context and its ongoing manifestations,’” she explains. “And it’s not just about the history of white supremacy, but a larger worldview that’s developed in the context of African American slavery and the creation of black communities.”
“The typical AU student doesn’t want to just do what’s related to the classroom," Runstedtler adds. "They want to figure out how to put that into action off campus as well."
Congratulations to AU for taking this step, we can only hope that it will manifest positively for the black community.