In 2019, The African and African American Studies Program at LSU will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. Having been founding in 1994, the foundation for the African and African American Studies (AAAS) program in Louisiana State University (LSU) can be found in the work, in the 1970s, of the Harambee Student Organization, the Council on Campus Minorities, and the Black Studies Committee. Formal steps to establish a Black Studies program at LSU began in the late spring of the 1993-1994 academic year, under the leadership of Dean Karl Roider of the College of Arts and Sciences. The proposal committee was developed by an interdisciplinary committee, chaired by Professor Kofi Lomotey from the College of Education. The program was approved in the fall of 1994, and provided an interdisciplinary basis for understanding the life and culture if African Americans, Africans, and people around the world by Steering Committee until 1997, when Dr. Thomas Durant, Jr., of the Department of Sociology, was appointed director.
The AAAS program was established as a coordinating unit, offering a Minor. The program began with two faculty members with joint appointing in sociology and African Studies. Respectively. The curriculum of the program included Introduction to African and African American Studies, Contemporary Africa, Directed Reading and Research; and Special Topics courses. Two African language courses, Elementary Swahili and Intermediate Swahili, were added in 1995, but were eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts.
Reflecting an interdisciplinary focus, over its 23-year life (1994-2017), the program has had six directors from five different disciplines/departments: Dr. Thomas J Durant, Jr. (Sociology); Dr. Leonard Moore (History); Dr. Angeletta Gourdine (English); Dr. Joyce Jackson (Anthropology); Dr. Lori Latrice Martin(Sociology); and Dr. Stephen C. Finley (Religion). In 2000, AAAS program was evaluated professionally by an external evaluator, Dr. William Nelson, Professor and former Director of African and African American Studies at Ohio State University. Dr. Nelson made the following conclusion in his evaluation: “In my view, the department model would be the most appropriate vehicle for organizing the courses, personnel and programs of African and African American Studies to satisfy the educational needs of present and future students at Louisiana State University” (Dr. William Nelson, Externa Evaluator, Ohio State University, June 2000, page 16). In seeking departmental status, Dr. Nelson recommended (1) change in program structure; (2) curriculum revision; (3) faculty expansion; (4) Increased funding; (5) support for program agenda and research; and (6) community outreach and development. The following specific recommendations were made:
- The program should be upgraded to a major program with departmental status.
- An operational budget should be provided.
- Hire a critical mass of faculty, with 5-7 new faculty lines.
- Provide resources for a program and research agenda.
- Provide a community outreach component.
- Establish collaborative linkages with Southern University.
Between 2000 and 2015, the AAAS program made steady progress; three core courses were added to the university’s general education requirements; three joint faculty, one instructor positions, and several adjunct instructors comprise the faculty; in addition to the Minor, a B.A. degree in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in African and African American Studies was added; AAAS collaborates with other programs to offer an interdisciplinary Master’s agree; 24 affiliate faculty and one emeritus professor comprise the extended faculty. Currently, the staff of the program includes a part-time administrative specialist, a graduate assistant, and an undergraduate assistant. During the 2016-2017academic year, the number of AAAS concentrators and minors reached record numbers. The academic year began with just 5 concentrations and ended with nearly 25 concentrators. The number of minors is around 31. These are both record numbers. Subsequently, the future of AAAS looks very bright. The program is thriving despite the lack of support for additional funds from the college. The unit’s operating budget is $3,000, the same amount as when the program was founded. Offering an independent major and a freestanding academic department are key steps towards acquiring additional resources from within the college and within the university.