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Columbia Senate Approves African-American and African Diaspora Studies Department

The University Senate at Columbia University has unanimously voted to establish a department of African-American and African Diaspora studies, according to the Columbia Daily Spectator.

If approved by the board of trustees, the department will become the first independent department dedicated to African studies in Columbia’s history. Currently, courses on the subject exist only within the department of Middle East, South Asian and African studies and at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS), which has limited course offerings in African studies for undergraduates.

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Without autonomous departmental status, African studies has continuously struggled to receive funding and donations.

The proposal, passed Saturday at a plenary, initially was approved in May at the monthly Arts and Sciences faculty meeting. IRAAS director Dr. Farah Griffin, the pending chair of the new department who presented the proposal at the plenary, said the new department will put Columbia on par with its peers such as Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Cornell, which have dedicated significant resources to independent African studies departments.

In the 1960s, Columbia quickly fell behind peer institutions by failing to create a department to meet the growing demands of students looking to pursue African studies majors.

“Unlike our peer institutions, Columbia did not establish a department in the field starting in the 1960s to meet the demand for courses,” Griffin said. “[IRAAS’s] intellectual future is very bright and promising, led by a stellar group of faculty members. However, to realize this full potential, [African studies] must serve as a department of the university to have autonomy.”

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