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News & Events

Dean Roberts appoints African American Studies task force

Group charged with revising and expanding African American Studies curriculum

Dean John W. Roberts has appointed a task force to enhance the academic offerings of the African American Studies Program and strengthen the program’s interdisciplinary ties to other CLASS departments.

Dean Roberts formed the task force on January 31, 2014 during a convening of faculty who teach African American Studies courses across the College. The conversation was wide-ranging and included open discussion about the current state and future direction of African and African-American Studies at UH.

"The task force has a critical role to play in imagining an African American Studies program for the twenty-first century at the University of Houston,” Dean Roberts said. “The members of this group and I understand that we need a program that includes the intellectual resources available in any number of academic programs on campus. 

“Our goals must be to provide students with the breadth of knowledge of the African diaspora that they deserve."

Dr. James Conyers, director of AAS since 2002, was asked to chair the task force and convened the first meeting on February 14. Besides Dr. Conyers, the task force members appointed by Dean Roberts are:

  • Gerald Horne, John and Rebecca Moores Professor in the Department of History
  • Phil Howard, associate professor in the Department of History
  • Janice Hutchison, professor of Anthropology in the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies
  • Kairn Klieman, associate professor in the Department of History
  • Shayne Lee, associate professor in the Department of Sociology
  • Richard Mizelle, assistant professor in the Department of History
  • Demetrius Pearson, associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance
  • Linda Reed, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of History
  • Rheeda Walker, associate professor in the Department of Psychology

“This is a step in a positive direction,” Dr. Conyers said. “Dean Roberts initiated this conversation and brought faculty around the table to discuss how we want AAS to grow. Those of us who are serving on the task force are committed to working together to move AAS forward.”

The task force has three priorities. The first is to revise the African American Studies minor degree program to provide more clarity about concentrations for students.

In its current format, the AAS minor provides some exposure to the African diaspora, but does not emphasize its international focus.

“The minor is going to have more focus on the African diaspora with an international focus on Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America,” Dr. Conyers said. “We’re looking at both our humanities and social sciences courses to make sure there are international components within all of them.”

The group is also exploring developing additional study abroad programs for the AAS minor, including a trip to the Caribbean. Right now, AAS offers summer, faculty-led study abroad opportunities in Ghana.

The task force’s second priority is to cross-list and cross-reference more courses in other departments and academic programs that can count toward the AAS minor.

Cross-listing allows a course to carry two or more numerical designations – one for each department or academic program that will give students credit toward a degree plan for taking the course.

Cross-referencing allows for counting a course toward a degree plan even though the course only has one numerical designation given to it by the originating department or academic program.

“We have over 40 hours of AAS courses in our inventory,” Dr. Conyers said. “With cross-listing and cross-referencing, we will be able to add to that inventory another five classes in summer 2014 and fall 2014.”

The third priority is to create an African American Studies major at the University of Houston.

“We’re building a curricular major, which is a great incentive for the task force to accomplish as a goal,” Dr. Conyers said. ““If we get a major, we will be only the second university in the State of Texas to have a major in African American or Africana Studies.”

The University of Texas at Austin recently established its African & African Diaspora Studies Department. In addition to an undergraduate major, UT offers terminal master’s degree and doctoral programs in African and African Diaspora Studies.

The UH AAS task force is taking its expansion one step at a time. It will work on getting a major established without the additional work of trying to build a department to house it.

“By going with a major only, we would not be spending additional resources by having to hire faculty to create a department,” Dr. Conyers said. “This is a very good start.”

- By Shannon Buggs