January 24, 2011

Africana: Moving Forward

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Last semester’s announcement of the Africana Research and Studies Center’s folding into the College of Arts and Sciences, after previously being under the supervision of the Office of the Provost, was met with almost immediate resistance from the Center’s faculty, staff, students and alumni. This resentment manifested itself in a protest on Day Hall during the last day of classes, featuring racially-charged rhetoric condemning the decision’s lack of transparency.The harsh language and revolutionary dialogue used by many at the rally was unnecessary and confused the facts of an already murky case. Accusing Provost Fuchs and the rest of the Day Hall administration of perpetuating “white supremacy,” as former Ujaama residence hall director Kenneth Glover declared at the rally, creates a misleading atmosphere that ultimately prevents fair and open discussion.

Nonetheless, this outrage stems from legitimate complaints of unilateral decision making, as well as a perceived sense of condescension from the administration. The main problem as the protesters see it is not the removal of the independent designation of the Center, but the process of the initiative. According to Africana Director Prof. Robert Harris Jr., the decision was handed down to the Center without any significant consultation of staff or faculty.

Given the sudden removal of Glover from his post at Ujaama over the summer of 2009, and the subsequent backlash, one can see the patterns that many involved with Africana may fear: top-down decision making and lack of communication. We agree that the unilateral verdict was unfair and unsettling.

The volatile nature of this issue is indicative of the Center’s history and its founding in 1969 under extreme circumstances. Following the burning of a cross atop the black women’s co-op, Wari House, students took hold of Willard Straight Hall. Among their demands was the creation of an Africana Studies and Research Center, a place where diversity on campus would hopefully be explored and celebrated. As the Africana Center was created from sensitive issues, it must be dealt with sensitively.

Fuchs has noted that he is committed to further improving the University’s leading academic programs, in which he includes Africana. We urge the Provost to demonstrate this by providing the Center with concrete resources and support that is uniquely suited to its new location. In clearly communicating his own vision for Africana, Fuchs must rely on current faculty and students, and will thus facilitate their cooperation.

At the end of the semester, this unique program of study will officially be part of Arts and Sciences. The leadership of Africana should ensure that the Center is ready to strive forward in its new position rather than continue fighting the decision, however brashly it was presented. The move is inevitable — it is time for the campus to focus on the future of Africana and all it has to offer.