My sole memory of my first week of class at Wesleyan is when I miraculously ended up in Professor Ann duCille’s “Introduction to African-American Literature” course – I remember thinking, “Oh. Yes. This is It.” It was why I came to Wesleyan and what I was looking for in a liberal arts education. In that first AFAM course in my first semester I found intellectual stimulation. I found deep meaning and a paradigmatic shift in the seminal American texts we read and in the complex lectures and conversations led by Professor duCille. And I found a mentor and advisor who became an integral part of my entire Wesleyan experience.
I can’t talk about Wesleyan without talking about AFAM. In my second semester I took Professor Gina Athena Ulysse’s first year initiative “Haiti: Myths and Realities,” where I was taught to personally engage with race and class as it affected my own identity and informed my own privilege. By then, I knew that I had found my home in AFAM with these dynamic and extraordinary professors who gave an eager first year student their time and energy freely and without hesitation, who challenged me and invested in me without question or reservation.
In the remaining three years, AFAM was the center of my Wesleyan world. I was pushed and nurtured by professors duCille, Ulysese, Eudell, and others. I was developed into an anti-racist critical thinker and activist. I was engaged. I was thrust deeper and deeper into analytic explorations.
I co-chaired the Majors Committee, worked as Professor Eudell’s Course Assistant, and basically lived in the Center for African-American Studies (CAAS). As a result of the incredible guidance of my professors, I developed and thrived. I won the Brody and Monroe prizes for my writing and I embarked on an intellectual adventure researching and writing my senior thesis, “Diaspora and Belonging: Black Jewish Americans and the State of Israel.” My thesis won high honors, it was nominated for University Honors, and it has subsequently been published.
Quite simply, my experiences in AFAM molded me into the person I am today. AFAM equipped me with the tools to move out into the world with a greater understanding of why and how the world is the way it is today. As a fellow in AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps after college, I worked at the New York Legal Assistance Group, providing legal services to indigent clients in New York City.
The skills I gained as an AFAM major propelled me forward. I went on to receive a Dean’s Merit Scholarship to the Georgetown University Law Center where I threw myself into on- and off-campus public interest projects upon arrival. I won the distinction of being named “Public Interest 1L of the Year” and a grant from the Hispanic Bar Association after my first year. I went on to intern at the Capitol Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition, the Washington Lawyers Committee in the Prisoner’s Project, and Human Rights Watch, where I contributed to the report “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States.” I was also a member of a year-long Human Rights Institute fact finding mission that designed a research project and produced the report “Kept Out: Barriers to Education in the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” As a member of the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, I published a paper “Unknown an d Unaddressed: The Educational Needs of Afghan Refugee Children in Urban Areas of Pakistan.” I also spent a whirlwind year representing juveniles in delinquency cases with the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic.
I now work as an attorney practicing employment and immigration law at Duane Morris, LLP in Philadelphia, PA. I have also just co-founded Pennsylvania Lawyers for Youth (PALY), a nonprofit aiming to assist reintegrating youth with re-enrollment in school when they return home from their juvenile detention placements. All of these accomplishments are directly tied to my time in AFAM.
I am not shocked to hear that the AFAM Department is on the brink of collapse. This is the end point to a trend that has been many years in the making. AFAM has systematically been undermined, including not being allowed to make hires sufficient to keep the department afloat, which resulted in the already employed professors being overburdened and overworked. In recent history, the Department was also asked to spend its own money, donated by AFAM alumni, for upkeep and refurbishing of CAAS – an expense ordinarily covered by the University. This meant that the money donated by alumni didn’t go to a professorial endowment or student scholarship or research grant.
I am appalled and disheartened by the state of AFAM. My father, uncle, and cousin are all graduates of Wesleyan and my sister is currently enrolled as a rising senior. I feel deeply impacted by and connected to Wesleyan, but #AFAMisWhy. A Wesleyan without AFAM is not the Wesleyan I love and support. I will refuse to support Wesleyan in the future if the administration does not step up and make a serious and substantial commitment to a lasting investment in sustaining the African-American Studies Department.
Baurer is a member of the class of 2009.