The latest segment of MSU Today explored the vision, mission, and values of Michigan State University’s Department of African American and African Studies with Ruth Nicole Brown, Inaugural Chairperson and Professor of AAAS, Tamura Lomax, Foundational Associate Professor of AAAS, Kristie Dotson, Executive Academic Advisor to AAAS and Professor of Philosophy, and April Baker-Bell, continuing member of the transition team and Associate Professor of Language, Literacy, and English Education.
“The African American and African Studies at Michigan State University (AAAS) began as a program in 2002,” Dotson said. “What was unique about it is that it was a program that was Ph.D. granting. It did not have an undergraduate arm, but it did offer Ph.D.s. One of the things the department is working toward is a real commitment to supporting Black people, helping to facilitate and create cultural workers in Black communities, and to Black sovereignty.”
“I was excited to read about AAAS’s core areas on feminism, genders, and sexuality studies,” Brown said, in talking about what attracted her to AAAS at MSU. “I was excited by the new build of this department and what we would create. It would be collectively oriented and anew, which meant that this work is bigger than any one person. And I’m interested always in being a part of something that will have an impact for generations. The call for that integral chairperson position affirms my long-held commitment to ways that affirm Black communities and Black thought life.”
“The timing, the opportunity, and the people all aligned for me,” Lomax said. “When Black women are centered, everyone else is centered too.’ That is what drew me to the department. When I understood the vision for where this department could possibly go, I wanted to be here.”
“We insist that Black studies uncovers and creates technologies of living for all Black people in Black futures,” Brown added. “When we say Black people, we mean all Black people. When we say Black futures, that is to say beyond survival into wellness, that is our vision that we created together. It guides our work, it guides our interactions, it guides our curriculum, and it will guide the work that we continue to do in the new build.”
“We have three organizing inquiries that motivate and sustain our work: Black Cultures and Institutions, Black Girlhood Studies, and Black Speculative Ecologies,” Dotson said. “We specialize in community and cultural works, cultivating radical imagination, and collective revolutionary knowledge production. As a unit, we are committed to making concrete connections between our scholarship, pedagogy, and social justice.”
“One of the main opportunities and challenges that is before us is that we have an opportunity to shape students who will go out and create alternative futures,” Lomax said. “This also is an opportunity for MSU to say who they are through the work that we do. There is a history, there’s a narrative, that’s not so good. It is important that we do well and that this work is supported. There’s a lot at stake for us personally, there’s a lot at stake for the institution, there’s a lot at stake for the department.”
“I’m really excited and hopeful [for this department],” Baker-Bell said. “I think it’s so necessary. It’s been necessary, but I’m really excited about the work that we’re going to do.”
The group discussed some of its short- and long-term goals and some of the challenges and opportunities to reaching those goals, especially during a global pandemic. And they described how people can participate in the evolution of the department.
Written by Russ White and originally published by wkar.org