Eckert: The importance of an African American studies minor

Currently there is no African-American Studies major or minor at Case Western Reserve University, which may be surprising to some. CWRU is what most would consider a top tier university and from my point of view, inclusive and respectful of all races, cultures and ethnicities.

There is a petition travelling around campus to be presented to the faculty senate. A strong movement to create an African-American Studies minor was started by former history professor Rhonda Williams, but there has been trouble finding qualified professors to teach classes in the proposed minor since she left.

Some courses offered in the African-American studies programs at other universities include the study of African languages and linguistics, the history of different regions through the ages and social issues ranging from gender and women’s studies to urban studies and traditional art. Programs also offer a variety of courses on colonization and the slave trade, covering the more modern half of African history.

African-American students are underrepresented at CWRU, but that makes it even more important to represent the culture and history in the classroom. Finding qualified professors is also important in this process. It is an investment worth making, in my opinion. The new program can lead to research opportunities for students and faculty in the field, allowing them to explore new topics and possibly even new parts of the world. There are 54 recognized states in Africa and currently CWRU only offers study abroad options in three. This may be the result of political tensions or lack of a suitable sister school, but this program could open up many doors for our students.  

Culture is one of the most important factors in personal identity. With today’s technology and communication methods, many cultures get blended together. This can be a great way to learn about traditions and customs in other parts of the world, but it is also important to have formal study of traditional practices. Without formal study, it can be hard to objectively determine what culture is and the impacts that cultures have on surrounding groups and the environment.

Creating these focused cultural studies programs is also vital to the preservation of cultures. Throughout history many groups, such as the early Central and South American natives, have been wiped out and their culture has been mostly lost. It is important to preserve their history to learn from their mistakes and better plan for the future.

As a top tier school, CWRU needs to remain competitive with other top schools. Incoming first-year students who are interested in African-American studies would rule CWRU out early. The university is losing talented students by not having this option.

In comparison to other, similar schools, CWRU seems to be somewhere in the middle. I looked into offerings at University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University, both of which are in the UAA (CWRU’s athletic conference) and located in or near the midwest.

Both CWRU and the University of Chicago offer a wide range of cultural studies courses, but unlike CWRU, UChicago also offers African Studies, Chicago Studies, Greek and Roman Studies and Latin American Studies. The University of Chicago has a wider range of cultural study programs across more cultures with options for specific concentrations within those programs.

Carnegie Mellon University, CWRU’s rival school located in Pittsburgh, offers similar cultural studies courses, but fewer. However, Carnegie Mellon offers African-American Studies as a degree option, but their other cultural studies programs are limited. CWRU has more cultural studies options than Carnegie Mellon, but in different areas. CWRU is between the two schools in number of cultural programs, but both other schools have African-American studies.

Looking at the demographics of these schools is also important in determining a need for proper representation in the classroom. Comparing data on the three schools’ Classes of 2020, African-American students make up 8.6 percent of University of Chicago’s class and 4 percent of CWRU’s. Another 4 percent of CWRU’s students are multiracial which could include students of African descent. Carnegie Mellon grouped African American students with Latino and Native American students, who made up 15 percent of the class. These minority groups need better representation in the classroom. It is important for all students to learn about minority groups because of the major role they have played in not only American history, but world history.

If you are interested in signing the petition for the African-American Studies minor contact Andrea Doe.

Eckert is a third-year student and English major. He loves the little things in life.