Christy Little Schock
KU News Service

Department of African & African-American Studies marks 50th anniversary with conference

Thu, 04/15/2021


LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas department will celebrate a half-century of research, outreach and activism that has made KU a leader in the field of African and African-American studies with a two-day conference and related events this month.

The Department of African & African-American Studies will host “Celebrating 50 Years of Africana Studies: Reckoning the Past, Present and Diasporic Future,” a virtual event April 22-23 that will include panel presentations by former department chairs, students and staff who were forerunners and activists to the department’s official founding in 1970. Originally scheduled for 2020, the conference was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it concludes a year of programs commemorating the anniversary.

“The 50th anniversary of the Department of African & African-American Studies is a celebration of the steadfast determination of students who desired to make a better world and space for themselves at the University of Kansas,” said Shawn Alexander, department chair and professor of African & African-American studies. “It is a stark reminder of all the students who have come through our classrooms and have gone on to do wonderful things with their degrees, who have made a difference in other people’s lives and have carried forth the mission of advocating for a global consciousness — and social change — both in the United States and throughout the world.”

The keynote speaker will be scholar and author Charisse Burden-Stelly, who will present "Black Struggle and Black Studies from 'More Relevant Education' to Black Liberation," moderated by Amal El Haimeur, assistant teaching professor of Arabic, at 11:45 a.m. April 23.

Other conference events:

  • "Art and Activism: 50 Years of Africana Studies at KU," moderated by Jessica Gerschultz, associate professor of African & African-American studies. The Spencer Museum of Art virtual exhibition, which depicts the origin of Black studies on the KU campus and the role of art in the intellectual and activist work of students, faculty and communities, will remain online through May 16.
  • A panel with former AAAS department chairs, moderated by Dorthy Pennington, associate professor of African & African-American studies and communication studies
  • “Tilling the Soil,” a panel with former KU student activists, moderated by Alexander
  • A panel with current and former AAAS students, moderated by Tony Bolden, associate professor of African & African-American studies
  • Skits highlighting the department’s African & African Diasporic Language program.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is open

The conference and commemoration come at a time when the world continues to struggle with social and racial inequity, Alexander said.

“AAAS’ golden jubilee occurring at this moment in time, a period when the nation finds itself once again engulfed in protests directed at anti-Black racism and social injustices, and the continued devaluation of Black lives, is a reminder of the importance of Black studies and how the struggle that helped create AAAS at the University of Kansas continues 50 years later,” he said.

Founded in 1970, AAAS provides an interdisciplinary space at KU for studying historical and contemporary relationships among African and African-descended people. The department, part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, coordinates several languages — including Amharic, Arabic, Kiswahili, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Somali and Wolof — supported by study abroad opportunities, and is affiliated with the Kansas African Studies Centerthe Langston Hughes Center, and the Institute of Haitian Studies.

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