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MSU unveils new learning space for Department of African American and African Studies

November 18, 2022
<p>The seven students who have declared an African American and African Studies major at the department learning space opening on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. </p>

The seven students who have declared an African American and African Studies major at the department learning space opening on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Photo by Miranda Dunlap | The State News

A ceremony was held to showcase the new 8,400-square-foot learning space for Michigan State University’s Department of African American and African Studies, or AAAS, on Thursday. The celebration included song, dance and a cleansing ritual. 

Initially, AAAS was introduced as a Ph.D. granting program in 2002. It was later added as an undergraduate minor in 2014. As of 2019, it now exists as a full major and department under the College of Arts and Letters. 

The department will now find a home on the second floor of North Kedzie Hall. It will include wellness and social rooms, a dance studio and more.

Psychic medium Candice Pizzo attended the celebration to perform a cleansing ritual for the new space. 

“I’m here because when you open a new space, when you change over hands of a new space, you need to cleanse it of any stagnant energy, to any toxic energy, whatever was here before,” Pizzo said. “Not only does that make room for blessings that are meant to be yours to come take seat, but it makes room for love and so much more.”

Pizzo joked that she originally was going to use smoke to cleanse the room but was told smoke wasn’t allowed in the new department. 

“So, I’m gonna do what Black folks do best,” Pizzo said. “Which is pivot.”

Instead, she used bells to cleanse the department heads and pay respect to their ancestors, because “Without them, there is no us.”

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AAAS academic specialist Chamara Kwakye took the stage to introduce MFA theater student Ural Grant.

Grant has led workshops on non-violence, peer pressure and communication through the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet Project. Through a leadership fellowship with the New York City's Children's Theatre, Kwakye said he is currently developing an arts education program that uses devised theater as a tool to help empower young African American males to tell their stories and construct their identities.

“Ural strives to bring joy and ignite positive, impactful experiences for young people in his community,” Kwakye said. “He is confident. He is Black boy genius. He just shows up fully in his gifts unapologetically.”

Grant performed the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

MSU vice president and chief diversity officer Jabbar Bennett also spoke at the ceremony.

“I appreciate the intentionality of the department to really start off today – and from the very beginning in thinking about the department – in ways that matter,” Bennett said. “In ways that are significant to the African American and African culture and in ways that are important for Michigan State University to better understand, to embrace and to celebrate as well.”

Bennett said he believes AAAS courses and faculty will offer both an informative and transformative experience.

“Today does not mark the beginning as you've heard … this is not something new,” Bennet said. “But for me, it does mark the start of a different chapter. A different type of enlightenment and education, a different type of understanding, a different type of taking action and hopefully resulting in different outcomes.”

Bennett said Black studies both save and change lives.

College of Arts and Letters Dean Christopher Long said the department and learning space will serve as an “irresistible destination” for generations of students and staff.

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“That this place exists, that this department is reality, after so much effort by so many, this is the strongest sign I have seen in my time here at MSU,” Long said.

Academic specialist Yvonne Morris introduced the seven students who have declared an AAAS major, speaking in-depth about each student’s unique personality and academic qualities. 

The AAAS department and major allows students to explore a variety of topics, including Black gender and sexuality studies, Black feminism and Black culture.

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