After 50 Years, It Is Time for AAAS at Stanford to Become a Department
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The full text of this open letter can be found here.
We call upon Stanford University to redistribute its enormous resources to prioritize and fully support African and African American Studies (AAAS).
AAAS celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year. Despite AAAS’s rich history, the program remains underfunded and understaffed. AAAS struggles to cobble together a coherent educational experience for its 47 majors and minors. Our high enrollments do not translate into higher visibility or higher prioritization within the university. It is not enough to say that there is much work to be done. Our current moment demands that we do the work.
Our vision for AAAS is to be a nationally-recognized leader in teaching, researching, and producing scholarship in the field of Black Studies. We believe that AAAS must be a program that is on par with similar programs at our peer institutions. We can achieve this goal by recruiting more faculty who are trained and specialize in Black Studies, broadening and deepening our curriculum, fully supporting our undergraduates and graduate students, funding our innovative programming, and hiring staff members to support our mission.
Respectfully, we submit the following demands:
1. The university must commit to departmentalizing AAAS in the next 5 years. In order for AAAS to become a successful department, we need the following to occur:
2. The university must authorize a cluster hire in African American Studies. AAAS is facing both teaching and advising crises. We urgently need more senior faculty who can assume leadership roles. We have difficulty finding faculty to teach our required courses, we lack graduate courses which makes us less competitive and leads many outstanding prospective graduate students to choose other institutions. Some of our students take classes at Berkeley due to the lack of options at Stanford.
Only 2% of Stanford's faculty is Black. We have great difficulty recruiting and retaining Black faculty due to the isolation and intellectual loneliness that Black faculty members experience. Several of our recent efforts to hire Black professors have failed. Our program has been ravaged by two major problems: the university’s failure to replace faculty members who have retired and the departure of several faculty members to positions at other schools.
In 1979, Professor Sylvia Wynter wrote to Dean Halsey Royden to bring some of the “glaring deficiencies” in AAAS’s program to his attention. Unfortunately, there are still several “glaring deficiencies” in our program and gaps in our curriculum, just to name a few: race and public policy; Caribbean literature and history; race, the environment, and climate change; race and medicine; race and technology; race and capitalism; black aesthetic culture; black queer studies; and black religious history.
We lack methodology courses to train our students in research methods and to prepare them to write honors theses and to apply to graduate school. Methodology courses are foundational to every major. These courses would not only enrich AAAS’s curriculum but would strengthen the humanities and social science offerings across the university.
We have restructured the major to respond to our students' needs. We added thematic concentrations to create clear pathways to navigate through the major. These thematic emphases include: Art and Cultural Expression; Historical Inquiry; Identity and Intersectionality; Media, Science, and Technology; Education Policy and Reform; Politics and the Law, and Social Impact and Entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, in some thematic programs, there are considerable gaps and we do not have faculty advisors to guide students through these concentrations. Responding to student demand, we would like to launch a community-engaged learning program, but we lack faculty to lead these efforts. During the last academic year, we struggled to find a faculty member to teach our capstone thesis course.
For comparative purposes, please see the list of wide-ranging courses offered by the African American Studies Department at Princeton University: https://aas.princeton.edu/courses
3. The university must authorize two lines of funding for two postdoctoral fellowships. Postdoctoral fellows do the important work of meeting student demand, teaching key courses, and creating an academic program befitting of Stanford’s stature. Postdoctoral fellows in AAAS demonstrate Stanford’s commitment to producing groundbreaking scholarship, diversifying the faculty, bringing rising star scholars to campus, and addressing the “pipeline problem.”
4. The university must provide AAAS with a dedicated development officer who will raise money specifically for AAAS. There is confusion among some donors about how they can direct their support to AAAS. A development officer who is dedicated to AAAS could identify donors who want to support AAAS’s initiatives.
5. The university must commit to making our Research Fellow position permanent. This position is currently a one-year fixed-term position. We need it to be a three-year position with the possibility of renewal. This position is very important to us as we are prioritizing the development of our graduate programming, increasing research opportunities and mentoring/advising for undergraduates, and planning our annual Emerging Scholars Conference. This position needs to be a permanent position to support all of our students.
We admire and fully support our students’ efforts to push for the departmentalization of AAAS. In order for this goal to become a reality, we need more faculty and we need a commitment from the administration that a thriving and well-supported AAAS unit is a top university priority.
AAAS is deeply committed to making Stanford a place where all students—graduate and undergraduate—feel a deep sense of belonging and inclusion. Our students, who come from many different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, describe our program as a “home,” intellectually and emotionally. We offer courses, programs, and initiatives that are relevant, timely, and student-focused. We cultivate advising relationships that extend long after our students graduate.
Stanford is committed to being a national leader and purposeful university. We hold as our purpose the creation of spaces—inside and outside of the classroom—for the discussion, learning, inquiry, and research of African American life and culture. AAAS would like to provide similar resources and opportunities for our students as our peer institutions provide for their students. In this moment of crisis and racial terror, we need Stanford to act and to commit to strengthening AAAS. We strive to be a nationally-recognized program: a leader in Black Studies. Our students deserve this.
If you support the sentiments expressed in this letter, please consider adding your name and Stanford affiliation (in the comments) to this petition.
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