December 01, 2015, BY Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

Bucknell University has launched an interdisciplinary Africana studies program, adding to its more than 50 options for undergraduate majors. According to the program's chair, Professor Carmen Gillespie, English, the program will allow undergraduates to study the interrelated histories, arts, politics, intellectual currents and cultural products of Africa and the African diaspora.

"It provides a rich basis for students to learn about the interactions between African people and their descendants and those in the West," said Gillespie. "The themes and approaches are directly relevant to understanding critical issues facing the U.S. and our global society."

According to Gillespie, the major emphasizes writing, scholarly analysis, public speaking and research, all vital skills that employers seek. "Majors will also be able to offer employers significant expertise with respect to issues of diversity and inclusion," said Gillespie. "It's a good fit for students who want to pursue a single or a double major."

The major has nine requirements, including one course in history and a selection of five related courses in the social sciences, humanities and arts. The program's core courses, Introduction to Africana Studies and Approaches to Africana Studies, explore themes, questions, concerns and events of African, African-American and other African diasporic communities and introduce students to key intellectual approaches. The major culminates with a senior thesis in which students will pursue individual work under the mentorship of an instructor. The program also offers three minors — African Studies, African-American Studies and Caribbean Studies.

Faculty initiated the formation of the program with backing from the Dean of Arts & Sciences, the Associate Provost for Diversity and the Provost. It received approval from faculty governance committees in Spring 2014. In April 2015, President John Bravman provided support for the University to create three tenure-line faculty positions and a postdoctoral fellowship for the program. The search for a permanent program chair is underway.

Gillespie said the eventual plan is to form an Africana Studies Residential College, a themed living-and learning community in which first-year students take a related Foundation Seminar, live in clusters within residence halls and engage with each other and faculty through weekly common hours, special projects and trips.

"I want to emphasize that this program — the major, the minors or related programming — presents a new opportunity for all Bucknell students," said Gillespie. "Anyone who wants to gain a broad global perspective and understand the intertwined histories of Africa and the West will benefit from the intellectual experiences the major offers."