And Northwestern Makes Seven
New Black studies program to launch this fall is latest to offer doctorate
By Jamal Watson
After years of planning, Northwestern University is launching its doctoral program in African-American studies next month, making it only the seventh American university to offer a doctorate in the academic discipline.
Six students will enroll in the doctoral program and will focus on three areas of research: expressive arts, literature and cultural studies; politics, society and policy; and history. Northwestern officials say the program will also have strong Black queer studies and diaspora
The creation of Northwestern’s doctoral program comes at a time when some have questioned the effectiveness of Black studies programs, which took hold on American college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s.
Dr. Richard Iton, an associate professor of African-American studies at Northwestern and its director of graduate studies, says the program will benefit from the university’s proximity to Chicago.
“Chicago is well known as a city rich in Black history and cultural institutions,” says Iton. “Within academia, it also is known as home to the largest contingent of relatively young scholars working in the field today.”
In additionto Northwestern, Harvard University, Michigan State University, Temple University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Yale University all offer doctoral programs in Black studies. Officials at each school say the programs differ in their individual
approaches to the field.
Harvard and Yale, for example, emphasize dual training in recognized traditional disciplines such as English, history or sociology. Meanwhile, UMass trains students in two tracks: literary and cultural studies and history. Temple, which boasts the oldest Black studies doctoral program in the nation and well-known scholars like Dr. Molefi Kete Asante,
focuses on Afrocentric ideologies and methodologies.
Northwestern has engaged in a bidding war for high-profile faculty members. Two years ago, the university lured Dr. Darlene Clark Hine, one of the nation’s most prominent Black historians, to its campus. Faculty from Northwestern and other Chicago-area institutions, like DePaul University and the University of Chicago, will participate in the doctoral program.
Some conservative intellectuals, like Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution, have questioned the validity of Black studies program and have argued that they have become too activist-oriented and lack a rigorous pedagogical approach.
Iton scoffs at such criticism.
“Scholars working in this highly interdisciplinary field have done a lot of path-breaking scholarly work in history, the humanities and the social sciences,” he says. “Academic programs are not graded on their activist commitments, and African-American studies is not much different in that regard.”
Columbia University plans to expand its existing master’s program into a doctoral program within the next few years.
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