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History of African and African Diaspora Studies

at boston college

photo of AHANA StudentsThe African and African Diaspora Studies Program at Boston College, originally called the Black Studies Program, began in 1969-1970 along side BC’s “Black Talent Program,” two parts of an effort to recruit talented Black students from across the country to study at this university. This program was a direct response to Father General Pedro Arupe’s 1968 “Inter-Racial Apostolate” letter to Jesuit Colleges and universities and a consequence of discussions begun in 1967 between then BC President Michael Walsh, S.J. and Boston community leaders Mel King and Bryant Rollins.

The Black Studies Program was part of an academic initiative to bring more African American students to the university and to make its undergraduate curriculum more broadly reflect a range of intellectual and critical perspectives. With these efforts, BC became one of the first major universities in the United States to establish Black Studies as integral to its academic curriculum.

In 1981, BC and the Black Studies Program took a major step forward by appointing Amanda V. Houston, a dynamic teacher and Boston community activist, as permanent part-time Director. Mrs. Houston laid the groundwork for the Black Studies minor, established in 1985, and–in large part–for the structure, goals, and mission of today’s program. While Mrs. Houston’s vision for a Black Studies major  has not yet been realized, it is possible to develop and propose an Independent Major in African and African Diaspora Studies. The first independent AADS major graduated in 1990.

In 1983, the Black Studies Program–in partnership with the Museum of Afro-American History and the Boston Public Schools–initiated the first in a successful series of “Blacks in Boston” conferences that examined the social, political, and cultural issues faced by the different ethnic groups and organizations that have made up Boston’s “Black” community. This and other outreach efforts helped develop closer connections between BC students and the wider Boston community.

In 1993 Professor Frank Taylor, a tenured Associate Professor of Caribbean History, became the first full time faculty member to assume the position of Director of Black Studies; his directorship was defined by an expanded focus on the Caribbean. The 1996 “Blacks in Boston” Conference featured Boston’s Afro-Caribbean connections and, with Prof. Taylor’s encouragement, students and community members made greater use of the John J. Burns Library’s Caribbeana and Nicholas M. Williams Ethnological Collections on Caribbean politics and culture.

Also in 1993, the University core requirements were revised to include one course designated “Cultural Diversity” for the entering class of 1997. Several Black Studies offerings fit easily under this rubric, thus Black Studies courses began to enroll an even broader range of BC students from all four undergraduate schools.

In July 2005, Associate Professor of English Cynthia Young was hired as the new Director of Black Studies. Under Professor Young’s leadership, the Program grew to include faculty jointly appointed with the departments of English, History, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Theology; its network of affiliate faculty grew exponentially; and the minor’s curricular offerings were expanded to approximately 40 courses per year. In January 2006, the program was renamed the African and African Diaspora Studies Program (AADS) to reflect the minor’s broadened focus on Africa and its world-wide diaspora. Central to AADS’s renewed focus are the “New Directions in African Diaspora Studies Lecture Series,” highlighting new AADS research by national and international scholars and creative writers, and the “Works in Progress Lecture Series” that features presentations by BC scholars.

In July of 2009, Rhonda Frederick (Associate Professor of English and AADS), became the Program’s fourth director. Professor Frederick is committed to initiatives begun by Professor Cynthia Young, Professor Frank Taylor, as well as Mrs. Amanda V. Houston, while forging new connections Boston’s African Diaspora communities, joining forces with New England area and international Africana Studies programs, and increasing AADS’s profile within BC academic and intellectual communities.

Currently, AADS offers over 40 courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences, enrolling more than 1200 students each year. Its mission is to introduce histories, cultures, and experiences of African descended peoples to the widest range of students; to support serious academic research on Africa and the African Diaspora; to give African descended students and their peers opportunities to examine the depth and breadth of African legacies on this continent and in all parts of our world; to link local Black communities more closely with BC; and to project the significance of realities of people of African descent to the intellectual life of BC and larger communities.