UConn hopes to offer black studies this fall
STORRS, Conn. — Students at the state’s flagship university will be able to earn degrees in the study of black history and culture starting this fall if a state board approves the school’s plans.
The University of Connecticut is asking the state Board of Higher Education to approve an interdisciplinary major it will call African American Studies.
Ten UConn professors will teach topics ranging from politics and psychology to the roots of jazz, the impacts of racism, and the culture and history of black Americans. The university’s board of trustees approved the program at its January meeting.
UConn students currently can minor in African American studies or build their own individualized major at state universities. However, Wesleyan and Yale are the only Connecticut universities that offer majors in the field.
“It’s conspicuous that there is no African American studies major at any public university in Connecticut,” said Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, a UConn history professor who also is director of its Institute for African American Studies.
“I really think it’s important because the university is positioning itself as a national or international university with a reputation that extends beyond Connecticut,” he said.
UConn Provost Peter Nicholls said the major complements UConn’s goals to study other cultures and attract a more diverse student body, which is now about 19 percent minority.
“Diversity is a big thing for us. It’s going to be a prominent piece of our academic plan. If we are going to be able to mount a major of this sort, it speaks directly to the issue,” Nicholls said.
Charles E. Jones, president of the National Council for Black Studies, said UConn’s new major comes amid a renaissance in black studies.
An initial surge occurred during the 1960s and 1970s as students staged sit-ins to pressure universities to diversify their curriculums.
However, black studies programs declined in the 1980s as states faced budget cuts. Many universities downgraded these departments to programs, or blended them into a comprehensive department studying several racial groups, Jones said.
Another resurgence occurred in the early 1990s after Harvard University assembled a prestigious team of top black studies scholars. Around the same time, other universities began to offer doctoral programs.
About 300 universities nationwide currently offer black studies majors and seven — including Yale and the University of Massachusetts — offer doctoral programs, Jones said.