African and African Diaspora Studies will be offered as a major beginning this fall, a curriculum development that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Black Studies Program at Boston College.    

The AADS program explores the history, culture, and politics of Africans on the continent and African-descended peoples in the U.S., the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and familiarizes students with the multiplicity and diversity of the African diaspora. Through interdisciplinary and comparative approaches, the new major draws on a broad range of methodologies in English, history, sociology, philosophy, theology, communication, romance languages, and art.

“AADS majors will gain transferable skills as they learn to analyze information from multiple perspectives and to assess the pros and cons of different types of evidence,” said program director C. Shawn McGuffey, an associate professor of sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies. “These skills are important as we prepare students for both an ever-changing workforce and to be knowledgeable, ethical, and civically engaged citizens of the world. It is a major that is needed now more than ever.” 

C. Shawn McGuffey

C. Shawn McGuffey

“I am very happy that Boston College will be launching a new major in African and African Diaspora Studies in the 2019-20 academic year,” said Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J.  “With a program history that dates back to 1969, the launch of the new AADS major contributes to the important celebration of the program’s 50th anniversary.  As the University deepens its strategic commitment to interdisciplinary academic experiences that promote engagement with the common good and increase global aspects of the curriculum, I am delighted that we are moving forward with this important new major.” 

AADS’s mission, according to administrators, 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; give African-descended students and their peers opportunities to examine the depth and breadth of African legacies on this continent and throughout the world; more closely link local black communities with BC; and project the significance of realities of people of African descent to the intellectual life of BC and larger communities.

“It’s important that students think about the many complexities in the world,” said McGuffey. “The AADS program of study brings together all of the ‘isms’—racism, sexism, classism, extremism—and demonstrates how they work as an interlocking system operating at the interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels.”

AADS began in the 1969-70 academic year as the Black Studies Program, which along with the Black Talent Program was part of a recruitment effort to attract talented African American students to BC.  The program served as a direct response to the 1968 “Inter-Racial Apostolate” letter to Jesuit colleges and universities from Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe, S.J., and as an outcome of discussions begun in 1967 between then-BC President Michael Walsh, S.J., and Boston community leaders Mel King, a former Massachusetts state legislator and community organizer, and Bryan Rollins, a former journalist and longtime diversity consultant. 

In 1981, Boston community activist and teacher Amanda V. Houston was appointed the program’s director.  She laid the groundwork for the Black Studies minor, established in 1985, and much of the structure, goals, and mission of today’s program. In 1991, the University Core Curriculum requirements were revised to include one course designated “cultural diversity” for the class of 1997, resulting in an even broader range of BC students enrolling in Black Studies courses.  

In 1993, Frank Taylor, an associate professor of Caribbean history, became the first full-time faculty member to assume the position of director of Black Studies; his tenure was defined by an expanded focus on the Caribbean. 

Associate Professor of English Cynthia Young was named director of Black Studies in 2005, and under her leadership the program grew to include faculty jointly appointed with the departments of English, History, Theology, and Romance Languages and Literatures.  Correspondently, its network of affiliate faculty grew exponentially and the minor’s curricular offerings were expanded to approximately 40 courses per year.

The program was renamed the African and African Diaspora Studies Program in January of 2006, reflecting the minor’s broadened focus on Africa and its worldwide diaspora. Central to AADS’s renewed focus was the “New Directions in African Diaspora Studies Lecture Series,” which highlighted new AADS research by national and international scholars and creative writers, and the “Works in Progress” lecture series featuring presentations by BC scholars.

In July 2009, Associate Professor of English and AADS Rhonda Frederick was appointed as the program’s fourth director, with the mission to increase AADS’s profile within the academic and local communities.  To develop these connections, Frederick revived the “Blacks in Boston” conference series, initially launched by Amanda Houston in 1983.

“‘Black...and Immigrant,’ the 2015 conference theme, engaged current issues in the U.S. immigration debate, and explored what black immigrants bring to this charged issue,” said Frederick.  “Critical insights revealed by examining American immigration from an AADS perspective exemplify the kind of perspective available to an AADS major.” 

“I’m thrilled that AADS is taking this next step,” said Associate Professor of History and AADS Martin Summers, who directed the program from 2014 until McGuffey’s appointment in 2018. “We have some dynamic and brilliant faculty who are doing cutting-edge work in the field. We also have some dedicated students in our classes who are passionate about studying the African diaspora, and they deserve an opportunity to pursue a major in the subject.”

—Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | August 2019