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Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008

New Ph.D. in African American and African Diaspora Studies created at IU Bloomington

New degree to be interdisciplinary with an international emphasis

May 9, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ind. -- The Indiana Commission for Higher Education today (May 9) approved the establishment of a doctoral degree program in African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

Valerie Grim

Valerie Grim

Only three other public universities and seven universities nationally offer a doctoral degree related to African American Studies. The doctoral program being created at IU Bloomington will be the only one to focus specifically on the African Diaspora, especially through involuntary means, as experienced by people in the United States and worldwide.

"These shared experiences, among them slavery, emancipation, imperialism, decolonialization and racism, warrant close attention and mark this field as a discrete unit of study that bears directly and powerfully on world history, literature and politics," explained the proposal for the new degree program.

"This is the only program that has the ability to allow students to exercise their intellects and skills in both a creative and traditionally scholarly way," said Valerie Grim, associate professor and chair of the IU Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. "We'll be different because of what we're emphasizing -- the interdisciplinary aspects of the program, the diasporic aspects and the way in which we're establishing international studies within our program."

Karen Hanson, IU provost and executive vice president, and Bennett I. Bertenthal, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, praised the faculty efforts to create the new degree and expressed appreciation to the commission.

"I'm delighted that the Indiana Higher Education Commission has approved the new doctoral degree. This unique program will attract outstanding students from Indiana, the nation and around the world and make Indiana University Bloomington a leader in scholarship relating to the study and representation of African American and African Diaspora issues and experiences," Hanson said.

"I congratulate Professor Grim and the faculty of AAADS for their dedication in developing this new Ph.D. program, " Bertenthal said. "As a major research university, it is incumbent upon us to observe, analyze and evaluate the history of the movement of peoples around the world. Examining the world through the lens of the African diaspora will create new opportunities for the generation, dissemination and application of socially useful knowledge."

The curriculum for the doctoral program will include two concentrations: "Race, Representation and Knowledge Systems" and "Power, Citizenship and the State."

"'Race Representation and Knowledge Systems' focuses on race making -- how race is represented and how it is reconstructed or reproduced across the African Diaspora," explained Michael T. Martin, director of the Black Film Center Archive and a professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies. "It concerns the role of race-making in intellectual life, in popular culture, in literary and artistic expression and in new media.

"The second track, 'Power, Citizenship and the Body Politic,' concerns inequality, legal status and all forms of social agency, as manifested in the experiences of people of African descent -- citizens, migrants, slaves and sojourners -- in national political processes and world affairs," Martin added. "It concerns the study of racialized systems of privilege and discrimination in diasporic, transnational, colonial and postcolonial racial formations. It also addresses the role of civil society and the practices of social movements where citizenship and human rights are contested."

John McCluskey Jr., professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies and adjunct professor of English, chaired the faculty committee that wrote the proposal for the new degree.

Since 2002, IU also has offered a Master of Arts degree in African American and African Diaspora Studies -- the department earlier offered a masters degree in Afro-American studies. This year, it had 24 students enrolled, including five graduates this spring. The department also offers joint master's degrees with the School of Fine Arts, School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the School of Library and Information Science.

Students in the program will be required to have a working knowledge of at least one language of the Diaspora besides English, such as traditional or Creole languages, French, Spanish or Portuguese and their course work will include study abroad.

"What we are doing in our program is creating a way to have a dialogue across the ocean in many different contexts, and we recognize that dialogue to be wrapped in many packages," Grim said. "That means we see that dialogue happening in Ghana but we also see it taking place in Brazil. We can see it taking place in Guyana or in the Caribbean and the Mississippi Delta.

"The common thread is the ways in which black people, people of African descent, see themselves as their own subject," she added. "We are removing the discussion of black people away from other peoples' imaginations or creation and are talking about black people as black people have defined themselves and have seen themselves in the larger construction of global communities."

In addition to Americans, the program also will recruit at least two or three students each year from universities in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, South America and Asia.

"We are establishing a strong international component because we believe you can't have this conversation without these other voices. It's not enough for us to read about those experiences. We need to have people in our program who have lived those experiences," she said.

In addition to creating more scholars in the field, graduates of the program also likely will be employed in government, private foundations and non-governmental organizations, including those with an international focus.

Grim said today's action by the commission in Columbus provides further proof of the department's momentum and progress. For example, its 15 faculty members have published 10 books during the last two years. Several graduate students are finding success in academic journal publications and fellowships at Yale, Harvard and elsewhere.

"This new energy that we're experiencing is the result of the department's having been able to hire a number of professors over the last couple of years who have positioned us to uniquely compete at the doctoral degree-granting level," she said. "We believe we are poised now to be competitive, and the faculty production reflects that."