When you walk into Schmid Gate, there is a sign that says “LET ALL WHO ENTER JOIN THE SEARCH FOR KNOWLEDGE”. Joining the search for knowledge is educating yourself on experiences, thoughts, and ideas that are different from your own. The only way that we can usher in a climate that is more inclusive and more welcoming is if all students are willing to engage in those critical conversations and ideas.
– Justin Riley, Associate Director, Student Community Support and Development at Chapman University
Wilkinson will have a new minor available for all Chapman students in Fall 2020 — Africana Studies. For the past few years, students and faculty have worked together to establish this interdisciplinary minor, emphasizing its importance to the fabric of Chapman’s curriculum.
For a while, student groups like the Black Student Union had been pushing for the development of such a minor, to no avail. Until recently, Chapman was one of the only four-year universities in Orange County to not have an Africana Studies-based program.
Dr. Quaylan Allen, Associate Professor and Director of First-Generation Programs at the Attallah College of Educational Studies, championed this need for change. Dr. Allen was a member of Chapman’s Diversity in the Curriculum task force, created in 2015 as part of Chapman’s Diversity Project. In 2018, Allen and the committee worked on a grassroots effort with students to focus on the development of an Africana Studies minor.
“We identified a need for the Africana-focused minor as part of the larger initiative towards diversity in interdisciplinary related minors studies,” said Allen. “It is important for all students to have access to the history of the contribution of African persons all over the world.”
Allen said the development of the Africana Studies minor came about “organically” and “from the ground-up.” The initial interest came from the students and it gained support from faculty and parents.
Jacky Dang (‘20, Peace Studies and Screenwriting) is one of a handful of students who currently have a self-designed Africana Studies minor. Dang does not identify as black or African American, which she considers a crucial part in developing this major.
“I kind of wanted to show that really any student can and should take it because at the end of the day it helps us learn our historical roots and what happened in society that we sometimes don’t learn in our history textbooks.”
Dang had an active part in helping develop this new Africana Studies minor too. She helped Allen make flyers, visit the classrooms to pitch the minor, and talk to students to garner interest in the minor.
Dr. Charissa Threat, Associate Professor of History in Wilkinson College, joined the sub-committee in 2018 when she was first hired. She became one of the core faculty members to complete and present the proposal for the minor to the University Academic Council for approval.
Threat describes the minor as an opportunity for students “to enrich their knowledge on the history, culture and contributions of the people of African descent. Understanding the global reach of the African Diaspora helps us understand human connections not only nationally, but across global civilizations and communities from the past and through the present-day.”
“It is great for students who are interested in working in education, law, public service, international studies, or poli sci,” added Allen. “It is designed to be interdisciplinary and to attract all students with a wide range of majors and minors.”
Justin Riley, Associate Director of Student Community Support and Development at Chapman University, also saw a need for this change based on his personal experience as a Chapman student. Riley (BFA ‘11, Television and Broadcast Journalism) believes this is a good first step in diversifying the curriculum, but that the effort is far from over.
“Students who want to learn more and get a better personal understanding about their ancestry and their heritage and how relations of people of black descent have evolved in this world and is essential, not just for black students but for all,” said Riley. “But we have to look at this holistically, and understand that this is going to take a holistic approach and it’s not going to be one program or one hire or one idea that’s going to change it.”
Wilkinson College plans to continue working with Riley and Diversity & Inclusion task forces to develop more interdisciplinary, culturally-diverse programs in the future for all of Chapman’s students. In the fall 2020, Wilkinson College will sponsor “Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation about the Significance of Race.” This semester-long examination will include an art exhibit, visiting speakers, film showings, and a one-day conference that includes student research and creative presentations. “Wilkinson College is committed to leading the conversation, alongside our campus partners, on issues of diversity, humanity, and social justice as we strive to make substantial, lasting changes in our campus culture,” stated Dean Jennifer D. Keene.