Tag Archives: Africana Studies

Ph.d.’s in African American Studies at HBCUs: A Response to Where are They?

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

This week Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ran a story entitled “Black Colleges Still Lacking Ph.D. African American Studies Program.”  The article rightly told the story of the development and expansion of doctoral programs in African American studies at historically White institutions and chastised Black colleges for having no programs — none at all.

According to a must-read book by Delores Aldridge and Carlene Young entitled Out of the Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies, the first courses that truly addressed the African American experience can be traced back to W. E. B. Du Bois’s teaching students at Atlanta University (now part of Clark-Atlanta University) in the early 1900s.  Although courses, like those  Du Bois taught, spread to some other Black colleges, the momentum never caught on.  According to Aldridge and Young, to date, no Black college has “required institution-wide a course with the black experience as its exclusive or primary focus” (p. 299).  Without this commitment, it seems unlikely that Black colleges would consider establishing a Ph.D. program in African American studies.

Of course, there are other reasons that make it difficult for Black colleges to create an African American studies Ph.D.  First, many leaders of HBCUs argue that all of the classes at an HBCU are taught with an Afrocentric perspective given that the focus of the institution overall is dedicated to the racial uplift of African Americans.  Critics of HBCUs would argue that Black college curricula is not Afrocentric and relies too heavily on Western perspectives.  Still other critics would argue that many HBCUs are often too conservative and unwilling to take risks with their curricula.

Second, very few HBCUs have doctoral programs.  In fact, out of 103 HBCUs, only 23 offer doctoral degrees.  Most Black colleges are just that — colleges and are focused on undergraduate education.  As such, it would make sense that there would be few doctoral programs in African American studies — but none is hard to justify!

Third, and this is perhaps the most convincing argument on the part of Black college leaders, doctoral programs are expensive to run.  They are especially expensive because most elite institutions (where the majority of African American studies doctoral programs are housed) can offer large fellowship packages to students — packages with which HBCUs cannot compete. 

Regardless of these reasons, Black colleges should aim to establish doctoral programs in African American studies.  They should lead the nation in providing a doctoral experience that focuses on the African Diaspora.  And, more importantly, they should produce future scholars and faculty members who will shape and challenge the minds of African American students.  In the words of Alan Colon, “HBCUs have the obligation to help change assumptions that have prevailed about the sanctity of Western civilization and the conventional ideologies that emanate from it” (p. 304, Out of the Revolution).


An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

Black Scholarship or White Imperalism?

By Dr. Christopher Metzler


There has been considerable debate among my colleagues about Black scholars and the production of Black scholarship. On the one hand, some White academics complain that Black scholars spend too much time on “ghetto scholarship.” This usually refers to Critical Race Theory, Africana Studies, and the impact of racism on our lives, both historically and contemporaneously. On the other hand, some Black scholars argue that we have a responsibility to study, analyze and write about the continuing significance of race in a thoughtful and substantive matter.


The reality is that the halls of academe are dominated by many White, imperialistic scholars who are rarely taken to task when they write about cultural issues of their choosing, i.e., feminism, essentialism, etc. Yet, many of them see no problem with marginalizing Black studies. Moreover, many of the same ones proudly call themselves liberals and, as such, believe that their White privilege endows them with the inalienable right to judge African diaspora studies by ostensibly neutral standards. Of course, since they set the standards, they determine neutrality.


For all its talk about diversity, the academy lags shamefully and unapologetically behind corporate America in this regard. One only need be a member of the academy to experience the contradiction between what the members of the “ivory tower” say and what they do. So then, does this mean that if Black scholars take to heart the responsibility to interrogate the ways in which racism affects our people, we will have no recourse but to join the faculties of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s)? Does it mean, moreover, that a generation of Black scholars will be discouraged from the pursuit of “black scholarship” if they expect promotion and tenure? Will we take the bait of imperialistic “liberal” scholars and model the segregated American society? For at least two reasons, the answer is a resounding no.


First, we have an obligation to study the continuing significance of race, whether on the faculties of majority institutions or HBCU’s. Second, in my experience, we need to confront the arrogance of so many White liberal academics who preach inclusion, yet routinely “Jump Jim Crow,” as they say. If we do not, we will do a disservice to academic freedom and the civil rights movement, both of which are critical to the advancement of our scholarship.


We should define for ourselves what scholarship is and then rigorously pursue it. I, for one, am tired of the academic institutions that airbrush Black faces onto their Web sites, while far too often relegating Black faculty to the institutional margins. Or they attempt to hire chief diversity officers, as if a CDO alone could change the deeply embedded culture of denigration and disrespect that many Black academics face.

When all is said and done, the goal posts for achievement are set up by the dominant culture in the academy. Many of us reach those goal posts, only to find that they have been moved. So, we have to ask ourselves, is this about “Black scholarship” or about the imperialistic, hegemonic nature of the academy?



Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University.