New Department to Focus on African and African Diaspora Studies

Feb. 10, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin has created a new academic department devoted to studying the experiences of African Americans, indigenous Africans and people of African descent around the world and an affiliated institute that will focus on urban policy.

The Department of African and African Diaspora Studies was formally established by the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board in November and is preparing to hire faculty and offer courses and degrees by the fall. The department will work closely with the new Institute for Critical Urban Policy, which has been created with the support of members of the Texas legislature.

University alumnus Joe Jamail has made a gift of $1 million to fund an endowed chair in the department.

"It's a major step forward," Anthropology Professor Edmund T. Gordon said of the new department, which he will chair. "These types of programs are very rare. It will be the only Black studies department in Texas and, when established, the only Ph.D.-offering program in the south and southwest."

Currently, about 30 students major in African American Studies through the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. Gordon hopes to double that number within a few years and to hire 10 full-time faculty members from outside the university within five years.

"This is a landmark event for The University of Texas at Austin," said President William Powers Jr., whose support was instrumental in establishing the department and institute. "Not only will the new department and institute offer world-class educational and research opportunities, they also demonstrate the university's ongoing commitment to diversity and to pursuing understudied areas of scholarship."

The department will offer bachelor's degrees this fall. It is applying for approval from the Coordinating Board to begin offering master's degrees and doctoral degrees in the future.

"The important part of the process up until now was keeping our eyes on the prize," said Warfield Center Director and Theatre and Dance Professor Omi Osun Joni L. Jones. "To create what we're beginning to imagine is thrilling."

Several faculty members in the new department will also be affiliated with the institute, where they will research, analyze and gather data on the state's African American population and promote scholarship on urban issues. University officials are currently searching for a director to head up the institute beginning this fall.

"The new department is poised to make the University of Texas at Austin one of the premiere schools in the nation for African Diaspora Studies," said Randy L. Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. "It will be a place where scholars in history, literature, anthropology and other disciplines come together to further our understanding of the African Diaspora experience and train the next generation of students."

The university was closed to African Americans until the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1950 case of Sweatt v. Painter that it was required to admit African Americans to its law school.

The university established an Afro-American Studies Program in 1969 and, in 2007, renamed what had become the Center for African and African American Studies for former Director John L. Warfield.

The Warfield Center will continue to operate after the department is created. It will oversee programs, lectures, faculty and student research, community collaborations and other cultural and educational opportunities on campus. The center's classroom teaching responsibilities will be transferred to the new department and expanded.

Sophomore and African American Studies major Diane Enobabor said she believes the new department will increase research opportunities for students.

"The major has given me a stronger sense of self awareness," said Enobabor, an Arlington native who also majors in Government and Latin American Studies. "The new department will be a centralized place for students to study these important issues and learn that Africans and the African experience are not monolithic."

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, is among a group of lawmakers who has supported the creation of the new department and institute. He praised the move.

"This will be an invaluable resource to the legislature as we work to address issues facing the African American and rapidly growing urban population of our state," Turner said.

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945; Don Hale, vice president for public affairs, 512-475-6869.

14 Comments to "New Department to Focus on African and African Diaspora Studies"

1.  Abdul Haque Chang said on Feb. 10, 2010

This is great idea.

2.  Junaid Yisa said on Feb. 12, 2010

I am very impressed with the new development at UT. As an African, i believe that understanding the dynamics of the unique similarities and differences shared between Africans of African heritage and African Americans of American heritage could create a well-balanced psychological sense of heritage for the African American within a white Anglo-Saxon society. After spending more than a decade on both continents, I realized a psychological resistance by a majority of African Americans to wholly socially integrate into the urban white Anglo-Saxon society. I believe that the new department at UT will bring to light more of the sociological and psychological challenges faced by African Americans as they integrate into the American societal structure.

3.  ikram najib said on Feb. 12, 2010

I'm interested in African studies. I would like to prepare my master's on it. I'm a student from Morocco getting my Ph.D. in literature.

4.  Leslie Taylor said on Feb. 15, 2010

To Randy L. Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts:
Hi Mr. Diehl,
This is a very interesting development and one that I would very much like to encourage. I am senior lecturer in Development Economics with a particular interest in Sub-Saharan African economies: growth and development and related policy issues. Can I therefore suggest some focus on the economy of the region to complement social, historic and artists issues.
Kind regards,
Leslie Taylor
Lecturer in Development Economics
Middlesex University
London, England UK

5.  katherine dunaway said on Feb. 17, 2010

It's been a long time coming! I'm so excited. This makes me want to go back to grad school. Warfield would be proud!

6.  John S. Hubbard said on Feb. 18, 2010

How is the world ever going to reach a point where people are all treated the same if we keep treating people differently?

7.  Anthony W. Neal said on Feb. 18, 2010

I'm very pleased that The University of Texas at Austin has created this new Department of African and African Diaspora Studies. I had the opportunity to meet John Warfield when I attended the university and I'm sure indeed that he would be happy.

Anthony W. Neal, J.D.
UT '85
Author of "Unburdened by Conscience: A Black People's Collective Account of America's Ante-Bellum South"

8.  cenan said on Feb. 18, 2010

To educate oneself is a good thing but...ask, is it useful for a student? Ph.Ds get a job teaching, OK. Masters get a job, where? CC maybe teaching. OK. Bachelors get a job, where? none. How is the student helped? "Have degree, no marketable skills, no job - show me to the welfare office."

9.  Paul said on Feb. 18, 2010

I majored in what was then called Afro-American Studies in the mid-70s at Harvard, and later completed my graduate studies in law at UT Law. It's gratifying to see UT come along so far in this direction. No doubt a lot of credit goes to the names mentioned in the article above. I also know from my student experience at UT Law (where he taught my Torts class) that UT President Bill Powers probably was a strong and influential supporter. I think UT is very fortunate to have him at the helm. He's a gifted scholar, administrator, and I believe also a visionary.

10.  Cecily Messer said on Feb. 18, 2010

This sounds very exciting. I am anxious to hear more about it. Will there be employment postiions available for students?

11.  John Mtembezi Inniss said on Feb. 20, 2010

I was a graduate student at UT in the late '70s through early '80s in the old Department of Oriental and African Languages and Literatures (DOALL). I remember the old Department of African and African American Studies. It had a committed faculty, but at that time I think the UT administration was somewhat tepid in its support of the department. I subsequently finished up a Ph.D. in African Studies elsewhere. What I hope for the new department is that it will not forget to include African languages in its curriculum, as did its predecessor. All the best! Hongera!

12.  Denise Hinds-Zaami said on Feb. 22, 2010

As a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, I am so pleased to hear of this new department to focus upon African and African Diaspora Studies. I attended in the late '70s and I know we could have used it then. I'm glad to see the evolution which has taken place and serves to benefit all.

13.  Katie Bielamowicz said on Feb. 24, 2010

I can't wait. I hope Dr. Moore is going to teach some of the courses offered. =)

14.  Akin Alao said on Sept. 7, 2010

This is good news; almost unbelievable. I salute the courage, steadfastness and commitment of Ted and Joni to this great vision. The establishment of a full fledged Department of African and African Diaspora Studies will definitely position UT Austin for academic leadership in Global African Studies.