Lehigh Africana studies expands program, broadens reach on campus

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The Africana studies program at Lehigh continues to expand its influence on campus by hosting speakers and creating new avenues for interested students.

“Students are able to gain a multiplicative, human experience understanding of what it means to think about race along with gender and inequality,” said Monica Miller, professor of religion and Africana studies.

The Africana Studies Student Association is one new elements of the program that reflects its growing presence at Lehigh. The association provides a platform for Africana studies majors and minors to network with one another and participate in opportunities to research and study within the field.

Africana studies was the first academic program at Lehigh to get a “cluster” of faculty employees, which is an interdisciplinary suite that employs professors from a variety of different disciplines to teach Africana studies classes. James Peterson, director of Africana studies, was recruited in 2011 to rebuild the program. This year, three new professors were hired, expanding the program that has been growing since it first started at Lehigh 20 years ago. In total, eight professors have been hired as part of this cluster to teach Africana studies from a variety of different disciplines across campus, from religion studies, to theatre, to political science and more.

According to Peterson, the Africana studies program enables predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows to be housed in various departments at Lehigh and continues to attract ‘A’-rate professors.

Each new professor adds to the number of courses offered in the Africana studies program, but enrollment is not an issue and the classes easily fill up. The diversity of disciplines within the Africana studies courses makes them appeal to students across all majors. Miller said the program provides students with an interdisciplinary education, where they can walk into any classroom and see a huge variety of disciplines being represented.

“Africana is not only interdisciplinary but our classes make use of those interdisciplinary tools, so students get a breadth and a depth of disciplinary training,” she said.

Peterson said he came here with a vision to produce topical, globally relevant programs that are not only compelling and attractive to students but that also help the Lehigh community improve campus climate.

By co-sponsoring with other Lehigh organizations committed to social justice like the MLK Committee and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Africana studies program has brought a number of influential speakers to campus. Hosted speakers have included Jesse Jackson, Angela Davis and, most recently, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton.

Mayra Juarez, ’15, is not pursuing an Africana studies degree, but still attends speakers and events that Africana studies helps sponsor.

Juarez said the events are valuable because they show that Lehigh is making strides at least from an academic perspective, and they open a new avenue for people to explore topics that they probably would not learn about in class.

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