African American and African Studies at MSU
African American and African Studies (AAAS) at Michigan State University is a unit that began as a program in 2002 with a structure that aimed at providing versatile and interdisciplinary training in Black Studies. In becoming a department in 2018, AAAS carries this aim forward with innovative degrees and pedagogical strategies suited for the challenges and promises we face in the 21st century.
From its inception in 2002, AAAS has recognized the need to continually evolve its curriculum to reflect the goals and needs of Black communities, faculty, staff, and students. Like all Black Studies Departments in the US, we owe our presence to a history of student and faculty activism and advocacy here at MSU and across the nation and globe. And our insistence on being versatile to respond to student need is one of the chief reasons AAAS transitioned into a department. In order to serve the communities we are indebted to and the discipline we love, we needed a structure that assures steady commitment, while remaining as dynamic and versatile as the AAAS program. As such, AAAS includes a great many degree options, from MA degrees with capstone-service projects to graduate certificates in AAAS for interested stakeholders, including those who are not currently enrolled at MSU. We are a dynamic unit created for ever-changing times.
AAAS aims to offer integrated and comprehensive education for undergraduate and graduate students in Black Studies that stresses long histories of creativity, collective organizing and accountability, and reciprocal interdependence. “I am because we are,” also implies, “we are because we are.” Our open commitment to an acknowledgement of community care and the necessity of Black Studies to be in community is built into the very structure of our programs. Black Studies is a discipline and it is inherently interdisciplinary. But Black peoples are not mere objects of study. Our students go well beyond academic inquiry. They learn to interface research with action and research as action. We labor to break down the boundaries between “in the academy” and “in the world” (or “in the academy” and “in our communities”). This concerns cooperative partnerships, sharing resources, and much more. The questions we pursue are deeply meaningful to us, personally and professionally. As such, we value the power accessed from Black interiorities. Living well includes locating the power and potential of systems and policy at all levels, all the while promoting sustainable collectivities (people-living), relationships with land, place making, artistic practice, community knowledge production, and outreach. A commitment to public good and the well-being of Black peoples underlies everything we do here at MSU-AAAS.
At MSU-AAAS, community engagement is a must. AAAS is a hub for collaboration and research with Black communities locally, nationally, transnationally, and on campus. Taking a holistic approach, we aim to foster partnerships, initiatives, and projects that tap into the vanguard expertise in our communities, in AAAS, and across campus. AAAS brings an entrepreneurial and speculative, impact-driven mindset to current challenges and world-building projects. As a result, our graduates will know how to identify and analyze the underpinnings of a given problem; listen to and assess talents, strengths, the ideas of people and the land; and formulate holistic solutions that are simultaneously inspirational and feasible. Doing well to study, envision, and implement greater justice in these current times requires attentive awareness of historical continuities and trusted knowledge in our movement to shape the future. One of our mottos is, “Let’s Go!”
AAAS at MSU is a Black Studies Department that embraces, without apology, Black feminisms, Black Genders Studies, and Black Sexualities Studies as integral to the study, activism, and advocacy of Black life and Black life worlds. We find these inquiries, and the lives and possibilities they entail and result from, to be rich sites of survival practices and speculative thought motivating us to (do the work today) for transformations beyond this current moment. We operate as diverse community members and inclusive community workers for a future unlived and people yet unborn. Our insistence that part of Black Studies are technologies of living both in (and beyond) this now, is a core principle of this Black Studies Department. Students should expect to learn to not only diagnose the serious and, yes, the temporal permanence (within a given arrangement) of problems, but to also radically grow their imaginations for collective continuance beyond those problems and, indeed, worlds without them. If we don’t pursue the (im)possible, then our destruction is already assured.
Black Studies is, and has always been, a discipline born of activism and the politics of young people. We honor that in this Black Studies department, we proudly offer 3 areas of study, 1) Black Cultures and Institutions, 2) Black Girlhood Studies, and 3) Black Speculative Ecologies. In many ways, we are actively inheriting unfashionable parts of Black people’s activity and hopes. We study and are a study in faith, specifically faith in Black people. We engage our own cultural institutions, e.g. the Black Church, Black education, Black theater, and Black medias. We do this first without attempts to enslave them to western formations in the name of being “educated,” “talented,” or properly “intellectual.” We insist that Black communities are diverse and located all over the globe, in the same ways that we insist that place matters. And we know, in our bones, that our imaginations are a site of resistance and the one that has to be consistently activated to affirm our very lives. We insist that we fight, create, dance, rest, and believe. If this vision sounds important, join us at MSU-AAAS.
MSU-AAAS is a production of the 21st century. But our possibility has been stored up and fought for by past and present generations. We may not be our grandparent’s Black Studies Department, but we owe our entire existence to the fact that they birthed this possibility, figuratively and, in many cases, literally. As with our ancestor-Black Studies Departments, we are not yet dead. In fact, in true Black feminist storying, “some of us did not die” (June Jordan, 2003). And in our lexicon, “some of us refuse to die.”
Our time is before, now, and next. We are the future’s future and we are not alone.