African American Studies Granted Departmental Status at the University of Virginia

The Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia was granted departmental status. Deborah McDowell, director of the institute, stated that “the institute has existed since 1981 and for the entirety of that time, it has been a program. A program signals secondary status in an institution of higher learning.”

Professor McDowell added that “many people have assumed that because of its origins, this field of study has always been hampered by assumptions that it was not a legitimate field of study but rather something formed in the heat of battle to satisfy political, as opposed to intellectual demands and prerogatives.”

The institute oversees the African-American and African studies undergraduate course of study, which includes a major, minor and distinguished majors program. The institute also has a residential fellowship program. Dr. McDowell notes that the transition to a department gives the institute more freedom in developing a unique curriculum with distinguished faculty members. The granting of departmental status allows the institute to function autonomously while continuing to achieve interdisciplinary perspectives on research and teaching.

Dr. McDowell is a graduate of Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she majored in English. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in American/African American literature from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is the author of  “The Changing Same” Black Women’s Literature, Criticism, and Theory (Indiana University Press, 1995). Dr. McDowell joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 1987 and was named director of the institute in 2008.


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