MSU College of Arts and Letters' newest department of African American and African Studies, or AAAS, is set to focus on Black feminism, Black genders studies and Black sexualities as the professors share some insight.
According to its website, "AAAS unequivocally and unapologetically maintains that Black Lives Matter. This statement of fact precedes yet includes ideological and political intervention in response to antiblack racial oppression."
Four women — inaugural chairperson of AAAS and professor Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, foundational associate professor Dr. Tamura Lomax, executive academic advisor to AAAS and professor Dr. Kristie Dotson and associate professor Dr. April Baker-Bell — lead the department with a focus on Black feminism, Black genders and Black sexualities.
Initially founded in 2002 as a PhD granting program, AAAS as a unit committed to making concrete connections between faculty scholarship, pedagogy and social justice causes. In 2014, an undergraduate minor was created to extend the Black Studies experience to an increasingly interested undergraduate population.
AAAS then became its own department on July 1, 2019.
"The new AAAS department embraces diverse scholarly approaches to research, teaching, and civic engagement required for comprehensive study within the larger Black Studies discipline," the website states.
Brown said the transition was made to provide for greater infrastructure in support of students, faculty, staff and all stakeholders, and that the focus on Black feminisms, Black sexualities and Black gender studies is distinctive.
“When we talk about the emphasis on Black feminisms, Black genders, Black sexualities, you will also see that expressed in our curriculum because that is what we do,” Brown said. “So, that is a key part of what students can expect to learn, what we will focus on.”
Lomax said the department and the Board of Trustees collectively and enthusiastically voted on the centrality of Black feminisms, genders and sexualities to the curriculum.
Historically speaking, she said the department serves as a response to the idea that emerged in the 1970s that Black women have not been represented fully in women’s or Black studies.
“You have Black women saying, ‘Well, Black studies is wonderful, but where’s our place? Where’s the place for us and what we need to discuss in terms of gender, in terms of sexuality?’” Lomax said. “You have Black women like Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Gloria T. Hull, Barbara Smith, Barbara Christian and others saying, ‘You have women’s studies — well, that’s for white women — and you have Black studies, and that’s mainly for Black men. Where is a place for Black women’s studies?"
“So, AAAS is somewhat of a response to that historical narrative where the more inclusive place had not been, and so we tried to imagine that,” Lomax said.
According to Brown, the work of the department began and is guided by their collective vision statement.
“The vision for the department is as follows: We insist that Black studies uncovers and creates technologies of living for Black people and Black futures,” Brown said. “And when we say Black people, we mean all Black people, and when we say Black futures, that is to say beyond survival into wellness.”
Brown said the vision influences everything they’ve done thus far, and said it’s a source of inspiration.
“That’s the thing that keeps us on track in terms of the work that we’re trying to do in building, in terms of creating degrees, in terms of the curriculum,” Lomax said. “It’s that vision that keeps us grounded, and it carries us forth in the day-to-day, very visionary and innovative work that we’re looking to do.”
In the future, Lomax said she hopes in-person classes will resume to allow communal connections with activists and to give students a safe space to learn and dream among one another.
Brown echoed Lomax’s sentiment, adding that she hopes the department creates meaningful knowledge, connections and art with and for Black people that make for greater justice, imaginative possibilities and holistic approaches to education.
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“The future of AAAS is creating a vanguard department where we are meeting each other, meeting students to make community, to make knowledge and create art that matters to the lives of Black people and affirms Black Life,” Brown said.
Brown said she hopes the future of AAAS provides a vibrant place where learners can activate their most radical imaginations, and where belonging is fostered.
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