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New Minor Degree Program in African American Studies Offered

11- 08- 2006

Spartanburg, S.C. – The University of South Carolina Upstate has offered courses in literature, culture and history with an African American focus over the years, but this fall marks the first year the university is offering a formal minor degree program in African American studies.

An interdisciplinary approach to history, culture and experience of African Americans from the fifteenth century to the present, the minor program will attract students interested in the African American experience from either a heritage or intellectual perspective, or a combination of both, and it will serve as a foundation experience for students who wish to pursue post-graduate study of the African American experience. It is one of 23 minor degree courses of study offered at USC Upstate.
 “The minor will be a great addition for students who are interested in going to graduate school for either African American Studies or in one of the sub-disciplines,” says history professor Dr. Carmen Harris. She adds that for African American students the program “may have the effect of developing an appreciation of the richness of African American history, heritage, and culture.”

Harris currently teaches two courses in African American History, shares teaching of the introductory course with other faculty, and occasionally will teach topics courses in African American History.

Students completing the minor program will be introduced to seven major themes throughout their studies, according to Dr. Warren Carson, professor of English who is teaching the first class in the minor this fall, the 200-level African American Culture class.

The themes are: Connections to the African American Past, where students will learn about the pre-Atlantic slave trade world Africa with emphasis on West African civilizations and societies; Becoming African American, where students examine the effects of enslavement on African identity and the construction of an American identity; Race and Identity Issues will examine the political, social and economic impact of the construction of blackness for African Americans; Resistance and Agency will examine the strategies used by African Americans to combat their disempowerment; Spirituality will trace the impact of African American spirituality on culture, community life and political activism; Cultural Expression will examine the material and intellectual contributions of African Americans to literature, music and art; and Liberation will include discussions on how the struggle for freedom and inclusion has shaped the African American experience and impacted the definition of freedom in the United States.

BowmanPhylicia Bowman, a junior psychology major who is considering adding the minor, is in Carson’s African American Culture class this fall.  “I am taking the class for me,” Bowman says, emphasizing the “me.” As an African American, she says that she wants to learn about her history from a personal interest perspective and a heritage perspective.

Bowman says she enjoyed the field trips the class took this semester. They attended Sunday worship services at Cornerstone Baptist Church as part of a discussion of African American worship practices, and ate lunch at popular soul food restaurant J Bones for the unit on cooking and eating habits among African Americans.

Carson’s reason for taking the class trip to Cornerstone Baptist was to illustrate the diversity in what is monolithically called “the black church.” Afterwards, students compared their worship experience with that of Cornerstone’s and were able to recognize many similarities and differences. “It made for a wonderful discussion!” says Carson.

In addition, Carson plans to discuss African American family trees and family units as a legacy of slavery, black fraternities and sororities, the rise and importance of historically black colleges and universities, blacks in film, theater and art, naming practices and black fashion.

davisSenior Les Davis says his studies have “allowed me to be more in touch with – and love – my culture.” Davis is a communications major who will graduate in December with a minor in African American Studies.  “The classes I have taken have given me the drive to strive – the inspiration – to go on,” he says. Davis adds that the obstacles that African Americans had to endure and the successes they have realized despite all the odds against them, has been “uplifting” and inspirational to him personally. He studied Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois and Claud McKay, citing them as individuals who made their mark on African American history, American history and on him personally.

“The minor offers all students a means of understanding not just African Americans but the role that race has played in our culture and generate understanding across cultural lines of the varieties of the human experience,” says Harris.

Carson adds that many of the African American students in the class “have not thought about their culture from an academic or intellectual point of departure,” and that most of the students respond to his questions by saying, “I never thought about it that way.”
 Students will be required to complete 18 hours, or a minimum of four required courses and two elective courses for the minor degree. Required courses are to be selected from the following: Introduction to African American Studies, African American Culture, African American Literature, Harlem Renaissance, African American History to 1865 and African American History 1860 to present. Elective courses can be chosen from the following: Topics in African American Studies (300 and 400 level), African Art, Southern Folk Art, Minorities, Crime and Criminal Justice, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Minorities in the Media, Jazz History and Race and Ethnic Relations. 

For more information, contact Dr. Carmen Harris at (864) 503-5732 or charris@uscupstate.edu or Dr. Warren Carson at (864) 503-5634 or wcarson@uscupstate.edu.