The University of North Florida is planning to offer an Africana Studies program as part of its effort to meet the rising demand for courses and majors that focus on race.
UNF’s College of Arts and Sciences recently commissioned a study from the National Reserach Center for College and University Admissions that found demand for Africana Studies and similar programs is outpacing the supply, especially in Florida and Georgia.
UNF Associate Professor of English Tru Leverette, whose background is in African American literature and culture, has been teaching at UNF since 2005 and has seen that growing interest first hand.
UNF has offered a minor in African-American/African Diaspora studies for years, but the Africana Studies program will be a new interdisciplinary major within the University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“Broadly speaking, Africana Studies promotes the academic study of peoples and cultures throughout the African Diaspora, with specific emphasis on peoples and cultures in North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean,” said Leverette, director of UNF’s emerging Africana Studies program.
Students in the Africana Studies program will have plenty of concentrations to choose from, including history, arts and culture, gender and sexuality, health, education as well as race and the environment.
“All of these things are going to help students who have various interests,” Leverette said. “For example, people who are interested in public administration or environmental studies might want to take the race and environment track and see how that applies to these issues of the diaspora.”
Leverette said the steering committee is also hoping to include a requirement that students in the program take a certain number of community based transformational learning classes, sometimes referred to as service learning, so that they can take what they learn about race and justice in the classroom and apply it in the community they live in.
Leverette emphasized that a major in Africana studies won’t limit students to a career in academia.
“Knowledge of race and cultural competencies are of interest to employers,” she said. “There are so many applications, especially since we are wanting to offer these particular tracks that will really help streamline people in their areas of interest. And lots of graduate schools really like these kinds of interdisciplinary degrees, so whether students want to go straight into a career or want to go to graduate school, this is a solid move.”
There’s still a lot of work to do and the state has to approve everything before the program launches. Leverette hopes to kick things off officially in the fall of 2022.
In the meantime, UNF will be presenting a virtual event hosted by Mal Jones of The Lyricist LIVE on the history of Hip Hop in mid-January. Jones will focus on Hip Hop in Duval County and its connections to Florida folk arts.
“I've been following Mal Jones's work for several years, after seeing his cypher at ArtWalk. When we were discussing events that would advertise the new Africana Studies program, I expressed interest in bringing Mr. Jones in because of his unique view of Hip Hop as an integral part of the folk music of our region,” said Sarah Provost, associate professor of musicology at UNF. “Hip hop is a major gap in our current offerings at UNF and I thought this was one small way to remedy the issue.”
The event will run from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15, and will be open to UNF students and the broader community. There is no link for the virtual event yet, but Provost said one will be shared on the Facebook pages for the university’s School of Music and the Africana Studies program.
Leverette said the Mal Jones event and the new Africana Studies program, as well as events such as The Justice Sessions and The Baobab Black Arts webinar series, are all part of a broader effort by UNF to meet the “the growing interest in these topics nationally and regionally, and because of the fact that UNF really wants to focus on diversity and inclusion.”