Africana Studies: A new department at Penn

Dear Benny,
I was thrilled when I recently heard that Penn’s Center for Africana Studies was upgraded to a department. As a lover of all things Africana, this is wonderful news! The University should be commended. I was wondering what this means for Africana Studies at Penn?

Signed,
Black is Beautiful

Dear Black is Beautiful,
You are correct. In June, the University Trustees approved the establishment of a Department of Africana Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS). However, it is inaccurate to describe the Center for Africana Studies as being “upgraded” to a department. Camille Z. Charles, director of the Center and the inaugural chair of the Department, describes the Department as an “addition.”   

The Center for Africana Studies still exists, and will continue all of its co-curricular programming, plus the Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen. The Department of Africana Studies will take over all of the Center’s academic programs, such as the undergraduate major and minor, the certificate program, and the Ph.D. program.

In addition, Charles says becoming a department will give Africana studies the capacity to hire faculty, increase office space, and provide a home for the Africana studies intellectual community.

The department has 11 SAS faculty members who will now hold joint primary appointments with their original home departments. One of the newest members of the faculty is Dorothy Roberts of Penn Law and SAS, the University’s most recent Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor.

Charles says the only change that affects students of Africana studies is that they will now take classes out of a department instead of a center.

Charles, who also is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor in the Social Sciences, says gaining departmental status essentially means, “Penn now acknowledges Africana studies as an academic discipline the way that it acknowledges political science or psychology, or any of the Arts & Sciences disciplines.”

Originally published on September 13, 2012