Name change, reorganization for African and African American Studies

March 16, 2012

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Penn State's Board of Trustees Friday (March 16) approved a recommended name change and reorganization for the Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS) in the College of the Liberal Arts.

The renamed Department of African American Studies will more accurately reflect a focus on African American topics, while the African Studies Program will be created as a separate, budgeted unit.

"The AAAS department always has been a somewhat uneasy melding of two different intellectual strands," said Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. "There are, of course, commonalities between the disciplines of African studies and African American studies, but they have different scholarly objectives and traditions. In effect, this small department has been trying to cover two huge areas."

Welch said that discussions to reorganize the department have occurred periodically for several years, and gained momentum last semester from the University's Core Council suggestion to examine the structure and curriculum of smaller departments. The council is responsible for identifying new ways for Penn State to maintain academic excellence, while helping the University become a more efficient and effective institution.

"The Core Council report gave us incentive to look closer," said Welch, "and the faculty decided that academic quality and students' education could be enhanced by splitting the department into two separate units -- one focused solely on African studies, and the other on African American studies."

The new designations will help to clarify each unit's academic mission and reduce confusion for prospective students and potential faculty, she noted, as well as enable the units to incorporate other scholars in the college who focus on one of the two areas.

The focus of each discipline will continue as before. African American Studies will provide students the opportunity to explore the experiences of African Americans to better understand the social, political and economic issues relevant to African American communities, and the relationships among African Americans and other ethnic groups. Students in the African Studies program will examine the geographical, cultural, historical, political and economic aspects of Africa. This option allows students to focus on political and economic developments in various countries and regions of Africa.

Welch added that African Studies will take part in a new dual-title doctoral program with the Department of Political Science and other partners now in the approval process. African American studies soon will create its own dual-title partnerships, as well.

Last Updated March 22, 2012