Since before the turn of the century, LSU’s African and African American Studies program has been just that...a program. And that meant it didn't receive the resources it needed to completely fulfil its mission.
However, the university’s board of directors recently approved a request to promote the program to a department.
“Programs are marginalized; they don’t have the same rights and status and resources and people and decision-making capacity that the departments have,” said Dr. Stephen Finley, the director of AAAS.
Despite the program’s shortcomings, students still major and minor in African American Studies. LSU senior Katherine Evans says attaining a degree in AAAS was tedious, but worth it in the long run.
“It was kind of a logistical nightmare to major in African American Studies,” Evans said.
“With more money going into it, and the success of online classes, I think we’ve actually been very successful in offering more online and summer courses. That kind of thing is going to open up the degree to some people that weren’t able to take it before,” she continued.
The administrators wishes have been no secret. In almost every report from the program’s director since its founding, there has been a request for promotion to a department.
“AAAS started in 1994, and it wasn’t long after that that the program commissioned a self-study,” Finley said. “The self-study concluded with urgency, that the program should be a department if it was going to fulfil its mission and come to its fullness.”
Now that the promotion has finally happened, Dr. Herman Kelly has hopes that the department continues to grow with the aid of more faculty and resources.
“Hopefully as a department we’ll have more visibility on campus; hopefully we’ll have more resources,” Kelly said.
Perhaps the largest improvement to the department will be the addition of full-time faculty, whose main priority will be African and African American studies.
“There are no 100%, fully in AAAs faculty. They all have their primary responsibilities elsewhere.” Finley explained.
Finley commented the hardworking faculty and staff within the department.
“We stand on the shoulders of people like Dr. Durant, Dr. Joyce Jackson and our present director Dr. Finley. Dr. Lori Martin and the whole staff and faculty did a lot of work to make this happen.” Kelly said.
While it isn’t her main focus, AAAS has a special place in the heart of Dr. Lori Martin, who's serving as the Interim Director.
“AAAS is the intellectual home for the study of race and the history and culture of people of African ancestry," she said. "AAAS provides students, staff, and faculty with professional development and mentoring opportunities.”
The promotion to a department will help students in a smaller field of study get the help and attention they need to succeed.
"You’re talking about a community that isn’t always heard, in a unit that isn’t necessarily respected because it’s a program,” Finley said.
With more autonomy and more resources, Dr. Finley hopes more students will be able to take advantage of what AAAS has to offer. You can find out more about the AAAS department here.