The African and African American studies program at Washington University in St. Louis was founded in 1969 following protests in the turbulent spring of 1968. Now, almost a half century later the African and African American studies program is on the verge of becoming a stand-alone academic department at the university. As a full department, African and African American studies will be better positioned to set curriculum and drive hiring decisions.
Gerald Early, the Merle King Professor of Modern Letters, who will serve as the inaugural chair of the new department, said that “this has long been a dream for all of us connected with African and African-American Studies. Certainly, when I came to campus in 1982, people aspired to see the program become a full department. They felt it was not just an academic goal but also a kind of political goal. They hoped it would bring more presence and prestige to the study of African-descended peoples. There are still challenges, but this is an important moment.”
Barbara A. Schaal, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences at Washington University, added that “I’m thrilled that the university has taken this step. It’s something that will greatly enhance the scholarly study of race and ethnicity on our campus as well as the educational opportunities of our students. As in the case of sociology and, more recently, women, gender and sexuality studies, this change in status for African and African American studies reflects the increasing importance of our Arts & Sciences disciplines in addressing national and global issues.”