The University of New Mexico’s Africana Studies Program and their unofficial student-organization, Uhuru Sasa: Freedom Now, are pushing for departamental status.
While Africana Studies, founded in 1969, was the first ethnic studies program at the University, it is the only one not currently a department. The Program must submit a proposal to be approved by first the UNM Board of Regents Academic/Student Affairs & Research Committee. It then will have to face a full BOR meeting and finally go before the Higher Education Department for approval.
“By not having an individualized department, at any time our program could be cut,” said Viola Cox, vice president of Uhuru Sasa: Freedom Now and an Africana Studies major. “It’s a huge impact and it's very concerning especially with the budgetary concerns that are going on here at the university.”
Cox said Uhuru Sasa: Freedom Now’s goal is to gather petitions, signatures and do on-campus work to assist the program’s need for support from other departments and build collaborations.
“It’s going to be the students that are going to have to compel the (Arts and Sciences) dean to make an overall evaluation and assessment and then make that decision for us,” Cox said.
Cox said the professors who teach in the program do not get the same benefits as other professors in different departments, such as tenure.
“Africana Studies does not offer that for them, because it’s a program and not a department,” Cox said.
Tenured professors have more job security, and often higher salaries than non-tenured professors.
Students wishing to pursue graduate degrees in Africana Studies often have to leave New Mexico in order to do so. Cox said that it is unfair for students, because UNM has qualified professors to carry the program forward.
The Director of the Africana Studies Program, Dr. Charles E. Becknell, Jr., said the program has advocated for department status for the past 10 years.
Becknell said an Africana Studies department would increase enrollment and would display a unique diversity in New Mexico.
“Our special niche of researching the African diaspora in the Southwest and all of the intersections with Indigenous people and other people of color, really makes us different than any other program across the country,” Becknell said.
Becknell said there is a misunderstanding that because Hispanic-serving institution, that there is a priority to other ethnic groups, and that this puts the need for an Africana Studies Department into question.
“Africana studies is not just for black people, particularly in New Mexico, with the intersectionality that exists,” Becknell said.
On Wednesday, the Associated Students of the UNM Steering & Rules Committee discussed a resolution that expressed support for Africana Studies’ effort to become a department. It failed in order for the committee to make revisions.
Alyssa Bitsie is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Albitsie.