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Indiana University Approved To Offer Doctorate in Black Studies

Since the Indiana Commission for Higher Education announced the approval of the new doctoral program in African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS) at Indiana University Bloomington more than a week ago, John McCluskey Jr. says he has felt both elated and relieved.

This announcement was four years and countless meetings in the making.


“On the one hand I have been elated,” says McCluskey, an AASDS professor who chaired the faculty committee that wrote the proposal for the new degree program. “On the other hand, because we’ve put so much work into it, it is almost anti-climatic.”


The faculty have not celebrated together yet, but in the days since the decision was handed down they’ve already begun recruiting students for their first cohort of five or six students for the fall of 2009, McCluskey says.

“We have a year to recruit, and let students know who we are,” he says. “We are already looking forward to the first class.”

IU became the eighth institution of higher learning in the United States to offer a doctoral degree related to Africana Studies, joining Harvard University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Temple University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Yale University.

“This marks the significant evolution in the development of the department here at Indiana University Bloomington,” says Dr. Michael T. Martin, an AAADS professor who will serve as acting chair of the department in the fall. “Our department now has joined the premiere departments offering doctoral programs in the United States.”

In April 2006, the AAADS faculty committee submitted the finished proposal, which took them a year to write, to IU’s College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Curriculum Committee. After being approved by that committee, the proposal traversed through a series of university and state-wide committees and offices before receiving the final approval from the commission on May 9.

“I’m delighted that the Indiana Higher Education Commission has approved the new doctoral degree,” says Dr. Karen Hanson, IU provost and executive vice president. “This unique program will attract outstanding students from Indiana, the nation and around the world and make Indiana University Bloomington a leader in scholarship relating to the study and representation of African-American and African Diaspora issues and experiences.”

Indiana currently offers a bachelor’s and master’s in African-American and African Diaspora Studies. Twenty-four students were enrolled in its master’s program this year. Five are graduating this spring.

The doctoral program, like its counterparts in the department, will focus specifically on the shared experiences of people throughout the African Diaspora.

“What we are doing in our program is creating a way to have a dialogue across the ocean in many different contexts, and we recognize that dialogue to be wrapped in many packages,” says Dr. Valerie Grim, associate professor and chair of the department, who will be on a sabbatical during the fall semester. “That means we see that dialogue happening in Ghana but we also see it taking place in Brazil. We can see it taking place in Guyana or in the Caribbean and the Mississippi Delta.”

The new program will have two concentrations: “Race, Representation and Knowledge Systems” and “Power, Citizenship and the State.” The former explores representations, reconstructions and reproductions of race across the African Diaspora, while the latter “concerns inequality, legal status and all forms of social agency, as manifested in the experiences of people of African descent — citizens, migrants, slaves and sojourners — in national political processes and world affairs,” says Martin, director of the Black Film Center Archive.

Students will be required to learn another language used in the African Diaspora besides English and their course work will include a study abroad program. They will also interact in the programs with students from outside of the United States, as the program will seek to recruit at least two or three students every year from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, South America and Asia.

“We are establishing a strong international component because we believe you can’t have this conversation without these other voices,” Grim says. “It’s not enough for us to read about those experiences. We need to have people in our program who have lived those experiences.”

Doctoral students may also have the opportunity to write what McCluskey calls “a creative dissertation.” Master’s students in the department have already written (or are writing) creative theses with an essay that accompanies a creative aspect — plays, novels or a collection of short stories.

“Because we have such a strong creative writing program, fine arts program and theater program, it would be possible — not that anybody would or could do it — but we would encourage those students with those creative gifts to be able to write a creative dissertation,” McCluskey says. “That is a reflection of what we’ve done at the master’s level.”

The faculty are probably scattered and haven’t been able to celebrate because they are researching and writing, as this very productive group of 15 professors has published 10 books in the last two years. And this production of knowledge on African people must continue, Martin says. That’s why he’s so excited about the new program.

“It’s at the Ph.D. level that one can reproduce themselves and the work that they do,” he says. “This is an opportunity for AAADS at Bloomington to bring in a group of young graduate students whom we can train in the field and whom will become the next generation of scholars in Black studies.”

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