The University of New Mexico’s African American Student Services, Africana Studies and College of Education hosted a “Reaffirming Black Studies” talk Wednesday as part of their lecture series.
The series is part of Black History Month events hosted by AASS in collaboration with other departments.
David Stovall, Ph.D., a professor of African American Studies and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago, was Wednesday’s keynote speaker.
These lectures center around reaffirming Black Studies — UNM’s Africana Studies is currently working toward becoming a department.
During his talk, Stovall discussed the history behind Black Studies departments at universities across the United States and the continued struggle to help others understand that Black Studies is an important department both to African American students and to the University as a whole.
Charles Becknell Jr., Ph.D., the director of UNM Africana Studies said the lecture series has the opportunity to inform students on the history behind African American Studies and provide a frame of mind that shows why the field of study is necessary.
“We hope that these conversations educate students, faculty and staff not only around our struggle in becoming a department, but our strategies in becoming a department and the role that they can play in supporting and becoming allies,” Becknell said.
The struggle for Black Studies to be recognized began in 1963 when the University of Illinois started a initiative called Project 500, which sought to increase the amount of African American students enrolled at the university, according to Stovall.
During the initiative the University of Illinois asked random African Americans on the street if they wanted to attend college. When they said yes, the individuals then went to the university campus.
However, the university did not provide student housing, leaving these young African Americans homeless, Stovall said. African American students began protesting, and in response to these protests, the police arrested the students and locked them away on the university football field that had been converted to a makeshift jail, he said.
“This is when people in the community began thinking about what it would mean to have Black Studies as an extension of the community that had your back, where you were not forgotten but where you were recognized,” Stovall said.
The struggle for recognition of Black Studies did not end after this incident — and the struggle continues to this day, Stovall said.
The way that universities are automatically organized is not inclusive for people of color, making the fight to recognize Black Studies an over-50-year-long battle, he said.
Black Studies challenges the way universities are organized and run, which is exactly what is needed, Stovall said.
Keeping a university the same way is harmful, because it encourages silence — Black Studies breaks that silence by challenging the status quo and recognizing the impact of colonialism, white supremacy and wrongful land appropriation, he said.
“If we center the story differently, we reach issues where we challenge whether history has been told accurately. Black studies can illuminate this history, rewriting history correctly and creating critical consciousness in an effort to end the grip of colonialism. This is a tough pill to swallow, but the grip of colonialism still exists today,” Stovall said.
There is a connection between the struggle of Native Americans and the struggle of African Americans, he said. Black Studies recognizes this connection and allows the true stories, contributions and culture to come out of the framework.
“When we connect these stories, it is not about claiming other people's struggles, but understanding what other people’s struggles have been and about understanding how culture and meaning has been erased and how the Black Studies can reclaim this culture,” Stovall said.
Black Studies reflects the culture and background that African American students come from by connecting the students back to the community that has continuously supported them and shaped their identity, he said. Black Studies recognizes the challenges that minorities continuously face inside and outside of the university setting.
This recognition and affirmation is powerful, he said.
“UNM is one of the few schools in the country that is a Research One University that does not have a majority white population,” Stovall said. “This puts UNM in a unique position.”
He said UNM has the potential to make Africana Studies an official department.
“It is committed work, but this work is no longer far away, it is near. Because it is near, it is challenging us to acknowledge the struggle and challenges that brought us here,” Stovall said.
Megan Holmen is a freelance reporter for news and culture at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_holmen.