New LSU department opens door to elevate students’ education on realities of Black experience
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - On Sunday, Feb. 20, a crowd will gather on the LSU campus to celebrate the launch of the school’s new African and African American Studies Department that some say is long overdue.
LSU professor Dr. Stephen Finley is the department’s inaugural chair. For Finley, the history of African Americans in the United States isn’t just a topic he teaches students, it’s his passion. His students can learn about the realities of the African American experience and earn a degree from what is now the African and African American Studies Department.
“Departments actually get more respect and are supposed to get more resources. So, in addition to having a lot more autonomy, it’s just better to be in a department,” Finley said.
LSU’s AAAS program was elevated to its own stand-alone department last year in a move that was recommend by a consultant 20 years ago following a self-study.
“I really can’t answer the question... what took so long. That’s a question for the institution,” Finley said.
What Dr. Finley is sure of is what AAAS students will learn when it comes to the struggles and contributions of Black Americans.
“We peel back all the layers. Again, it’s an educational institution. These are courses that are meant to talk, so we’re not trying to sanitize. We’re trying to educate students about the world in which we live and how we got here and the nature of our current social arrangements. We can’t do that without talking about race and gender and economic inequality,” Finley said.
When Nikki Lee first enrolled in LSU nearly 30 years ago, there was no opportunity to earn an African American studies degree. Now, she’ll be the first to get one.
“I’m more passionate about the program than what order I am. Although, it’s exciting,” Lee said.
Lee will be the department’s first graduate when she is awarded her degree this summer. She is humbled by the opportunity to keep centuries of African American traditions alive through knowledge.
“The minute that a ritual stops becoming a ritual, it’s lost. I think that’s the most important thing about the program. The program is ultimately preserving Black culture,” Lee said.
But, this can only happen with adequate funding and support for the department from the community and university leaders. Dr. Finley’s goal is to raise $5 million to ensure the department’s success. He’s making a plea to those in power.
“I ask them to continue to commit to this work. It’s not my department. I work here. I’m committed to it, but this is an institution of the college of humanities and social sciences and Louisiana State University, and so it’s something that we all have to commit to building,” Finley said.
If you are interested in learning more about the new African and African American studies department, click here. Or, if you want to make a donation to the department through the LSU foundation, click here.
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