History of African & African American Studies

Founded as a program in 1994, the Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS) at LSU has its origins in the 1970s with the work of on-campus groups including 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 composed of a group of a interdisciplinary faculty, and 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 of African Americans, Africans, and people around the world, who comprise the African Diaspora. Coordination of the program was provided by a 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 appointments in Sociology and African Studies, respectively. The courses offered by  the program included: Introduction to African & African American Studies, Contemporary Africa, Directed Reading & 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. 
Over its 27-year life (1994-2021), the program had six directors from five different disciplines/departments, which reflected the interdisciplinarity of the program: Dr. Thomas J. Durant, Jr. (Sociology); Dr. Leonard Moore (History); Dr. Angeletta Gourdine (English); Dr. Joyce Marie Jackson (Anthropology); Dr. Lori Latrice Martin (Sociology); and Dr. Stephen C. Finley (Religion). In 2000, the AAAS program was evaluated professionally by an external evaluator, Dr. William Nelson, Professor and former Director of African & African American Studies at Ohio State University (See Appendix F). 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, External 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:  

    1. The program should be upgraded to a major program with departmental status.
    2. An operational budget should be provided.
    3. Hire a critical mass of faculty, with 5-7 new faculty lines.
    4. Provide resources for a program and research agenda.
    5. Provide a community outreach component.
    6. Establish collaborative linkages with Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College 

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 position, and several adjunct instructors comprised 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 degree; 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 2016-2017 academic year, the number of AAAS concentrators and minors reached record numbers.  The academic year began with just 5 concentrators and ended with nearly 25 concentrators. In a typical year the program maintained approximately 40 minors. Currently, the department continues to show promise. We currently have 15 majors (this does not include students who are double majoring in another unit and AAAS). Our list of minors includes 29 students (see Appendices A & B). Subsequently, the future of AAAS looks very bright.  The department 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 (see Appendix C).  Offering an independent major and a freestanding academic department are key steps towards acquiring additional resources from within the college and within the university.  

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer killed Dereck Chauvin killed George Floyd.  The horrific killing of George Floyd led to many actual and symbolic changes.  These changes were fueled, at least in part, by the labor and expertise of African American scholars who study race.  The Southeastern Conference (SEC) Directors of Black Studies published an important statement, which served as a clarion call to colleges and universities to prioritize Black lives, including Black Studies programs.  The document, along with advocacy on the part of AAAS faculty and students at LSU, led to the significant changes at LSU.  In 2021, the LSU Board of Supervisors and Board of Regents approved the Bachelor of Arts Degree in African & African American Studies.  Soon after, the Board promoted African & African and African American Studies from a program to a department in the College of Humanities & Social Sciences.  Lori Latrice Martin served as the Interim Chair from February 2021-May 2021.  Stephen C. Finley was elected by the faculty to become the department’s Inaugural Chair.  The new department launched in February 2022.  Several faculty searches took place, including a joint hire with the Department of Psychology.  The department unanimously decided to hire Dr. Rogers Orock, an African Studies scholar, in March 2022.  Dr. Orock joined Lori Latrice Martin as the first two faculty with 100% appointments in the Department of African & African American Studies at LSU.