The public responsibility of Pan-African Studies - Higher Education


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The public responsibility of Pan-African Studies

by Karin Chenoweth

As a discipline, Pan-African studies has developed a body of
expertise that should, in the future, help focus public policy
regarding Africa and the African diaspora, according to scholars who
participated in the Pan-African Studies Conference earlier this month.

“What Africana studies is able to do is to fully inform people
about what is happening,” said Dr. William A. Nelson Jr., research
professor in Black studies, professor of political science at Ohio
State University, and one of the keynote speakers at the conference.

It’s unfortunate that President [Bill] Clinton was not enrolled in
an Africana studies class before his trip,” Nelson said, adding that
such an education might have motivated him to spend more time
exploring, “the civic development that has occurred in Africa.”

The Pan-African Studies conference, held at Indiana State
University, had as its theme: “Pan Africanism Revisited: African
independence in the 21st Century.”

“The quest for political and economic development of the
Pan-African community is going to require serious study by scholars and
involvement of activists,” said Dr. Francois Muyumba, associate
professor of the university’s Africana studies department and the
originator of the conference fifteen years ago.

Muyumba hopes that such scholarship will translate into the
transfer of technology and the creation of “fantastic, business
opportunities” in Africa and among the African diaspora. For example,
he said when he visits his native Congo, he sees women spending “ours
and hours” preparing meals. He envisions the creation of small mills
that can grind flour and free the time of thousands of African women.

Unlike other disciplines, Pan-African studies has as part of its
stated mission the application of scholarly studies to the practical
world.

“The foundations of the discipline were based on academic
excellence and social responsibility,” said Dr. Diedre Badejo, director
of the Institute of African American Affairs in the Department of
Pan-African Studies at Kent State University. Badejo, who was one of
the speakers at the conference, said that the discipline “comes out of
the work of people like… Martin Delany and, later, W.E.B. DuBois who
felt that there was an unbreakable bond between academic research and
the needs of the community.”

In reflecting that blending of theory and practice, the conference
focused on such practical issues as how to connect the academy to the
community and how to make Pan-African studies departments stronger
units within the academy.

“What we are doing is to ensure that we have educated people who
can educate others about the life experiences of African people
globally,” said Dr. C. Aisha Blackshire-Belay, professor and chair of
the department of Africana studies at Indiana State University, and
organizer of this year’s conference.

To that end, Blackshire-Belay, among others, has been raising the
possibility of some kind of national accrediting process that would
help universities assess what good departments of Black studies,
African American studies, or Africana studies should look like.

“We must make sure we have a qualified person, have a proper
curriculum, and a respectable unit,” she said. “We have many people who
are placed on high who are not representing the field, but [rather]
themselves…. if they are training their students to be like them to
make the megabucks, that’s not what Black studies is about.”

Ohio State’s Nelson said that one of the hallmarks of any good
program should be that it “retain some structural autonomy and not be
swallowed up” by generic ethnic studies programs. “You need a core
faculty of seven to ten members to have an autonomous department that
can recruit students, give tenure, and teach their own courses.”

Any department that relies primarily on joint appointments —
including Harvard’s well-known department of African American studies
— is, according to Nelson, “a second-line program.” Firstline
programs, he said, include the new doctoral programs at the University
of California-Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“We are finding a new generation of students interested in Africana
studies,” said Nelson, who added that Africana studies have a
“tremendous role to play in the policy realm. We should be
investigating several issues that have direct impact on African peoples
across the world.”

Such issues include, he said, the effects of turning welfare administration over completely to the states.

“We are preparing new students to do this kind of research. We are
going to have to think about an African American think tank t6 be the
equivalent of the Brookings [Institute]. The Black Congressional Caucus
is crying out for that kind of information,” he said.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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