A degree in African American and African Studies, or AAAS, is now open to students at Michigan State University. It is the first undergraduate major of its kind offered by the university.
Chair and professor of AAAS Ruth Nicole Brown said there has not yet been a full admissions cycle with the new degree in place, and students in the incoming fall cohort will be the first to have the opportunity to pick AAAS as their major.
“The curriculum itself is really exciting and constructed around the primary emphasis of the department, and this is our specializations in Black feminism, Black sexuality studies and Black gender studies,” Brown said. “We know that there are several pathways to AAAS and those are the ones we emphasize.”
Students can choose from one of three degree concentrations: Communities in Action, Creative Expression, Culture and Performance and Black Institutions, Sustainability and Statecraft.
Brown said Communities in Action is really important because students who are interested in and attracted to AAAS, see themselves as capable of making a difference in their communities.
“They are often committed to social justice, and so, the doing; the action is a part of how we think about the subject matter, as well as, faculty expertise, who are scholars, artists, activists in various capacities,” Brown said.
Brown said she and the rest of the degree program are excited about the Creative Expression, Culture and Performance concentration.
“This concentration is really important because I think that, while students are often trained to think critically in arts and humanities, social science in any sort of field, there sometimes can be a less of an emphasis on the creative act,” Brown said. “Creative Expression, Culture and performance is critically important and central to our pedagogical vision because it teaches students and gives them opportunities to create the world that they want.”
Brown said the AAAS degree at MSU is significant because all liberal arts, humanities education must attend to the contributions of Black people and Black communities in the US across the globe.
“Anything that we can think of as culturally significant, politically progressive, dedicated to justice is related to the study of African Americans and Africans, but also just the thoughts and the actions that particular Black people and communities have engaged to, for the best of what we know, to be alive, to be honest,” Brown said. “I think it's just absolutely apart and critical to a good education.”
The AAAS degree is also historically significant, Brown said.
“We know that if it weren't for the activist struggles of folks before for us, departments like this one, AAAS would not exist,” Brown said. “It came out of demands and rights and political activism for a more inclusive society, and the historical significance is often documented.”
Brown said she wants students to take classes in the AAAS department and to know faculty are extremely ready to receive and meet the genius of MSU students.
“The faculty are bringing excitement, commitment and a range of lived experience and formal training in multiple academic fields to prepare us for now and the future,” Brown said. “I just want folks to know that we are here — this major is live — to take our classes and know that we are doing our best to create curriculum that is worth the time, the effort, the intention of students who are here at MSU now and those who are on their way here.”
Brown added AAAS is ever growing and that MSU community members should keep an eye out for new developments in the department.
“Not only is the major new but as a department, we are new,” Brown said. “This is just sort of one important step among so many that we will be making to create the change that we want to see, to transform higher education from now.”
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