Before the end of the academic year, students mobilized in support of the African American Studies Department, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly published a resolution titled “Demanding the Re-Prioritization of African-American Studies at Wesleyan.” Since the resolution was passed, an open-rank social sciences faculty search committee has been formed to find two new permanent hires for the African American Studies Department.
“[The WSA] calls upon the University to recognize the importance of African American studies; demands that the Provost prioritize faculty hires in African-American Studies; urges that these hires are made across disciplinary lines to fill the gaps that have been present in the program for years; demands a public and documented response to the first three clauses from the Provost and/or the President of Wesleyan,” the resolution reads.
Professor Lois Brown, Chair of the African American Studies Department and Director of the Center for African American Studies, described the value of passing such a resolution.
“The resolution that was passed last semester confirmed the substantial depth, breadth, and intensity of student and alumni support for African American studies,” Brown wrote in an email to The Argus.
Christian Hosam ’15 reiterated Brown’s praise of the resolution and its show of student support for the African American Studies Department. However, he also commented on how disappointed he was that the students had to propose a resolution, rather than the University addressing the issue without an impetus.
“I think that it’s sad that something like it had to be written because I know it can make students who study black people and people of color more broadly feel like that isn’t taken serious at Wes,” Hosam wrote in an email to The Argus.
University President Michael Roth spoke about the goals of the search committee, which comprises various members of the social sciences faculty.
“We hire a new permanent person, once we have that person on board, then we can think about the next steps for another permanent hire,” Roth said. “I think it’s important to do this in stages, both because you want to build interest in the program, but also if we hire a political scientist, then I think we should complement that with the next hire. Hiring two people simultaneously might result in two hires in the same discipline, and that would be a problem.”
Hosam spoke about his hopes for the search for the new faculty hires, as well as his wish to restore the African American Studies Department. In past years, faculty often worked in the AFAM Department in addition to other departments.
“I seriously hope that by the end of this academic year, the question of AFAM’s intellectual rigor will be put to rest because of a strengthened roster of dynamic faculty who don’t have to feel burdened simply by virtue of being appointed in a program as well as their home department,” Hosam wrote.
Dreisen Heath ’15 noted that the University responded to the resolution by hiring two one-year visiting professors, Jill Rowe and David Swiderski, for the upcoming academic year. However, Heath feels, this cannot be a permanent solution.
“Wesleyan cannot be considered a university that fosters academic inclusion if it does not demonstrate an effort to truly improve and support the African American Studies program and the Center for African American Studies (CAAS), and hiring two visiting professors simply puts a bandaid on a bleeding wound,” Heath wrote in an email to The Argus.
President Roth expressed his desire for the committee to hire a permanent professor in the near future.
“I’ve been trying to think of other ways to augment our strength in this area by bringing in some scholars of note and who have made a difference to the field,” Roth said. “I feel good about the momentum; I’ll feel better when we have that first hire.”
In September, the Center for African American Studies will host a two-day event in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer 1964 voter registration drive. The original event resulted in about fifteen hundred college students traveling to Mississippi to protest African-American disenfranchisement and voter suppression. To honor this, the upcoming event will feature concerts and panels of alums who took part in Freedom Summer, as well as civil rights activists.
“We look forward to a good, engaged, and productive year in the program and at CAAS and, ‘This is why!’” Brown wrote.