After 20 years at Barnard, the Africana studies program officially became an academic department last week.
The distinction comes after a board of external reviewers recommended that the program be elevated to department-level status during its academic program review.
Women’s studies professor Tina Campt, the chair of the new department, said that the new department-level status was more symbolic than functional.
“Technically, very little will change,” Campt said. The program already had all of the components of a department, including its own major and minor requirements, tenured faculty, and budget.
“That said, on the other hand, it’s a very significant change in terms of what it means institutionally,” Campt said. “It’s a kind of commitment to the permanency and the vibrancy of the Africana studies as a field and as well as a commitment to have it recognized as a department at Barnard.”
When the program launched, it initially struggled, suffering from rapid faculty turnover, the lack of a cohesive curriculum, and limited space. But in the last few years—under the direction of Campt and Kim Hall, the former head of the program and a professor of English and Africana studies—the program found its footing.
Campt and Hall hired several new faculty members, including novelist and English professor Yvette Christiansë, and renewed the program’s emphasis on gender.
Campt credits the combination of Africana studies and gender studies for the program’s success.
“One of the things that distinguishes both our faculty and our Africana studies curriculum is that we’re both diaspora scholars and gender scholars,” Campt said. “That’s just the specific focus that distinguishes us from other departments or other Africana studies programs, and really that’s what's of most interest to our students.”
“It’s amazing,” Hall said of the program’s elevation to a department. “I should have a more eloquent word, but it’s just so deeply satisfying given the state of things when I got here.”
“It’s really kind of a validation of the building of the program we’ve done over the years,” she added.
Faculty, students, and alumni will celebrate the program’s new department-level status on Thursday, with a party following a lecture on race and politics in the pre-Civil Rights era by Thulani Davis, BC ’70.
The department invited all of Barnard’s African-American alumnae to the event, Campt said.
“We’re going to have music, some champagne, some food, some words, and some congratulatory hugs,” she said.
As for what’s next for the new department, Hall said she’d like to see more science integrated into the curriculum.
“This is not a good time for liberal arts colleges, but if we have the opportunity, I’d like us to get more faculty in the sciences, people who can do more crossover work,” Hall said.
Sophie Ellman-Golan, BC ’14 and a double major in Africana studies and human rights, said she was thrilled about the change.
“Programs are temporary, but departments—we’re not going anywhere anymore,” Ellman-Golan said. “Africana studies is now a permanent fixture within Barnard’s academic structure. That’s really exciting.”