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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The standing and importance of the Africana Studies Department


Professor of Africana Studies, Dr. Tony Van Der Meer teaches lecture in McCormack Hall. Photo by Olivia Reid (She/Her) / Photography Editor.

As an alumna of the Africana Studies Department, I stand in solidarity with and strong support of the department and faculty.

I chose to continue my graduate career at UMass Boston in the Critical Ethnic and Community Studies program primarily because of the nurturing and uplifting community fostered by the department. The faculty’s dedication and commitment to its students’ personal and academic success as well as the flourishing of the broader Boston community remains unwavering despite ongoing attacks by and contempt from UMass Boston administration.

Without the guidance and encouragement of the Africana Studies Department faculty, I would have long given up on my pursuit of higher education. The Africana Studies Department has continued to providsupport, care and direction to myself and other Black and BIPOC students who are often isolated and discouraged within spaces that have historically participatein and continue to maintaithe subjugation of marginalized peoples.

I often describe much of my own experience as a teacher and learner as continuous and ongoing. The humble and honorable culture within the department has continued to ground me as a student and educator. I have also learned that I have a lot to unpack and unlearn as I continue to navigate internalized systems of oppression. Last year, as I contemplated my next steps upon completion of my undergraduate studies, I had hoped to pursue an Africana Studies master’s program. Such a program of study is not available at UMass Boston yet; however, in order to continue learning from these wonderful, passionate educators, I am now privileged to call them my mentors.

My previous experience in K-12 education left me discouraged and distrustful of male educators and leadership; I often felt a lack of genuine support from male colleagues and leaders. My experience as an undergraduate student within Africana Studies restored much of my distrust. Within the department, I discovered the power and influence of genuine support from faculty who were not only teaching about patriarchy and privilege but also deconstructing these theories within their own practice and demonstrating pathways for constructing anti-racist paradigms and communities.

Despite the leadership demonstrated by the Africana Studies Department in helping to create new pathways for UMass Boston to become an “anti-racist and health-promoting public research university,” the administration has continued to deny the contributions of the department and seems to even appropriate their work. Job searches have been cancelled and their elected chair was removed. Despite these assaults on the department, they continue to persevere and demonstrate dedication to the students and communities they serve.

I consider myself a living testimony to that point! As a graduate student and stakeholder in the department, I feel compelled to speak up and organize support for Africana Studies. I want to encourage my fellow students and community to demand that the UMass Boston Administration meet with the department and acknowledge their scholarly, intellectual and visionary contributions to students as well as their local and global efforts to address racial and social justice issues.

For nearly three yearssince the George Floyd uprisingsthe Africana Studies Department has been calling for an “Introduction to Africana Studies” course, as well as one other course out of a cluster of choices from Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Asian American Studies; Latinx Studies; Native and Indigenous Studies; Labor Studies and so on, that would be mandatory for all students to graduate.

Why is this call of theirs not supported by the administration or by all departments across the campus? Why are we not, as students on this campus, demanding that these courses be mandatory for all students to graduate?

The importance of Africana Studies courses is powerfully demonstrated by the following testimonies from students who are currently taking the “Introduction to Africana Studies” course, which I am currently a teaching assistant for.

Ahmed Fassassi said, “Africana Studies class has allowed me to learn about history that resonates with me on a deeper level than most American history that I have been taught in school, because it’s more inclusive of history that relates to me as an African American. Africana studies is important, especially at a large and diverse institution as our own because it highlights the side of American history that is being suppressed by those in positions of power that don’t wish to see us move towards an anti-racist society. Africana Studies 101 is one of the classes I’ve taken on campus that I feel my voice has been heard and welcomed the most. From these discussions I’ve learned to look at certain topics and ideas from a different, wider perspective.

Bridgette Bennett wrote, “This class has drastically improved my knowledge on Africa and Black people. I learned so many things that I will bring with me forever. Understanding that racism is racial prejudice plus power is one of the biggest things I will take away. I found myself unlearning a lot of things that I ignorantly accepted. I would recommend everyone to take this class, especially people of color.”

Alexis Hoilett explained, “In class I’ve learned that even the structure of the lecture hall in which the class takes place in the lower level of the library has its foundations rooted in colonialism. […]Taking an Africana Studies class has given me a job, criteria and a new standard of what I hold myself to[…] The topics we covered have helped me to be able to navigate life in a different way knowing and learning about the standards of equality civil rights leaders have advocated and died for. I can see and understand the intersectionality of major issues stemming from prejudice, racism and abuse of power, nationally and internationally. […] Walter Rodney helped me connect concepts such as colonialism and capitalism, with racism, and how the Western way of life and norms came about. The history I’ve learned in class is filling in the gaps in my historical knowledge.”

Rachel Green who took “Race Class Gender” last semester wrote, “Any university would be worthless without a deep and thriving curriculum in Africana Studies. The classroom experiences I’ve had in the Africana Studies department have been vital in opening my eyes and my heart to fellow students I wouldn’t have connected with, and to ideas that shape me to this day. If Black Studies must be relegated to a separate department, then more students must be taking these classes to integrate this foundational yet transformational learning into their other classes.”

These testimonials show the Africana Studies Department’s commitment to transforming students’ lives. We must demand that the administration meet with and genuinely support the department so that it can continue to do its powerful and visionary work.