One year after protests took an endangered Africana Studies major from the chopping block, the program is still fighting for stability.
“What could make things to get better would be have more support from the institution and more marketing, we also do ourselves, we are marketing all the time,” said Amir Jamal Toure, who teaches Africana Studies at Savannah State University.
In September 2018, Savannah State quietly enacted plans to deactivate the Africana Studies program after years of low graduation rates from the major. Students protested the move, blocking a faculty meeting and protesting in other ways on campus. Five days later, the school announced it had rescinded the decision, effectively keeping the program alive.
The department is now working to show its value in both academic needs and programming.
Toure said the program has done more to help students identify careers they could pursue with a degree in Africana Studies.
“Right now we have two exciting programs coming up in November, we are bringing in a speaker,” Toure said. “This is showing that African Studies is actually involved. We don’t want to work just with the academic program. We also want to involve all the people.”
The Africana Studies classes are not the only contribution to the department from SSU. The Savannah African Student Association (SASA) promotes and hosts a variety of activities as movies, lectures and celebrates independence days with the purpose to promote an understanding of the historical and contemporary experiences of the people of Africa and the African diaspora.
Edlyn Emelia, the 2019-2020 SASA president, is a mass communications with a concentration in multimedia and digital communications and a minor in business marketing. This semester, she is taking the course Survey of the African American Experience, which is one of the classes of the African Studies program and is required of all students at Savannah State.
According to her, the importance of the program is being able to connect the students with their roots and teaching them the importance of African history. The organization helps in this mission.
“The connection between the African studies department in our organization is that we are both striving to connect with our roots and share the knowledge we have acquired. As SASA’s President my goal for the organization is to share the African culture with the campus and grow our organization,” Emelia said.
Beverly Asemota is a political science major who already took some African Studies classes, “I took this class because I needed it to complete my requirement but at the same time, because you cannot talk about American government without a full knowledge of Africa and African politics,” Asemota said.
The university has courses outside of the Africana Studies department that focus on the experience of African Americans. Kai Walker, a professor in mass communications, teaches the course African Americans in the Media.
Commenting about the deactivation then reactivation of the Africana studies department, she said the 21st century paradigm brings a lot of changes in all fields and also with the technology, universities question what courses can be offered online, what information should be taught and what information can people get on their own, but in the case of the African Studies the situation has some other points to consider.
“In the essence of the program of African Studies I think it is always important to remember that for over 400 years in this country and over 600 years globally the history of the Africa Diaspora was withheld, fell out, overlooked, and adapted. So now, we only had around 50 years of civil rights where African Americans and other Americans can openly learn about African American history and how Africans contributed to global history,” she said.
For her, as an historically black institution, this department is even more important, because not everything starts out with the European history. There are thousands of years of history that is not discussed in predominantly white and European institutions and a lot of people don’t realize that the first universities were in Africa.
“The first schools of thought, the mathematics [and] science comes from Africa. They will say Arabia, but we are talking about Africa before they drove the canal through and made the Middle East a separate body. So it is very important for children from African origins to be able to know and identify themselves with the entire practices and functions of learning and education.”
Walker believes that the African Studies department is part of that, placing emphasis on the global and national history contributed to by Africans.
For Toure and the rest of the Africana Studies department, the future is still unknown.
“We don’t necessary know at this point. That is something that we are working on to make sure that doesn’t happen. We are doing stuff to show how strong our program is and how available are the things that we do. We are an agent component to Savannah State,” he said.