African studies major subsumed by general comparative race program

African studies majors miffed by department change

By Ella Christoph

Students are voicing frustration about the recent absorption of the African and African-American Studies (AFAM) into the Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies Major (CRPC), a program that examines race through the study of various ethnic groups. AFAM, which studied only African and African-American subject matter, will no longer be offered to students who have not already declared.

Students who have already declared AFAM as their major can choose to complete it as planned or switch to the revamped CRPC major, which requires specialization in either African American Studies, Africa Past and Present, Latino/a Studies, Asian American Studies, or Native American Studies.

Jackie Scotch-Marmo, a second-year who has switched her major from AFAM to CRPC, said in an e-mail interview that although she personally prefers the new major, replacing AFAM with a more general race studies major belittles its importance. “I think the University is sending a dangerous message that it does not care as much about this particular field,” she said.

The change will permit students to take advantage of a wider range of course offerings, said Theresa Mah, assistant director for curriculum and learning at the University, who was in charge of putting together the proposal. “We’ve gained a more diverse set of faculty members over the past few years, and we wanted to use those resources to address some of the interests we’ve had among students to broaden our offerings,” she said.

Students majoring in or interested in majoring in AFAM were notified of the change in the fall and invited to a meeting where coordinators from the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, which runs both majors, explained and discussed the decision.

Students majoring in AFAM said that it was more difficult this quarter than in the past to take classes to meet their requirements. Four of the six courses for the major are held at the same time.

Ramón Gutiérrez, director of the Center, said the change will allow students more freedom in completing their studies. “What is moving forward is a renaming and course-expansion proposal so that students can move through the major and minor in a more timely fashion,” he said.

Dallas Donnell, a third-year AFAM major, said it was regrettable that AFAM was incorporated into CRPC. “That’s something that’s selling the major short in and of itself,” he said. “I don’t understand why it’s a part of something else and can’t be done on its own.”

Mah said that frustrated students may be comparing the U of C’s offerings to other schools that offer independent African-American studies programs, such as Harvard. “[Harvard has] a lot of resources for African American studies by itself, but I think that is something that the U of C is very far away from,” she said.

Prior to the change, the AFAM major did not have a center or a department. Mah said the University tends to be conservative in creating new departments and instead has created centers for nontraditional subject matters.

The East Asian Languages and Civilization department and the Latin American Studies Program are independent of CSRPC and will continue to operate separately. The funding system for these programs is different as well, said Mah, because they receive additional funding for language instruction.

Donnell said it seemed disrespectful for the University to have a separate area of studies for East Asian Studies and Latin American Studies but not AFAM.

Allison Ringhand, a third-year AFAM major, said a major examining race globally was important, but that African studies would be neglected. “There’s no home for African Studies now,” she said.

Scotch-Marmo said had the AFAM major not existed, she might not have attended the U of C. “I think this will certainly upset some students at the University and may deter some applicants,” she said. “[Whether] these groups are a large enough population is a matter yet to be seen.”

The University’s history and location on the South Side of Chicago, Donnell said, should be considered in its treatment of African and African American studies. “This school is wrapped up in a bad history of the South Side,” Donnell said. “It owes the community more.”