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February 4, 2002

AA Studies celebrates its 30th anniversary

By Michael Terrazas


February is African American Heritage Month, an event that comes along every year, but this year Emory has something extra to celebrate: the 30th anniversary of the University’s own African American Studies Program.

Launched in September 1971 (anniversary events originally were planned for last semester but were delayed in the wake of Sept. 11), Emory’s was the first degree-granting undergraduate program at a major Southeastern university, according to its founding director, Delores Aldridge.

“Emory’s program was established with no models or guidelines to follow and by a freshly minted Ph.D. director,” said Aldridge, Hamilton Professor of Sociology and African American Studies. “Emory’s program served to open the way for so many other initiatives at the University. To have come into existence, survived and thrived for 30 years is an awesome accomplishment which delights me to no end.”

Originally called “Black Studies,” the program’s name changed in 1980 to “African American and African Studies” before it became known under its present title. For six years after its founding, Aldridge was the program’s only associated, tenure-line faculty member, and she served as director for 29 years before stepping down in 1990.

Today the program features 19 core faculty and another 13 associated faculty from across Emory College and the Institute for Liberal Arts. In 2001–02, 15 students majored in African American studies, and another four listed it as their minor.

Mark Sanders, associate professor of English and African American studies, took over as director in 2000, and he said the challenges facing not only Emory’s but all African American studies programs have changed in the past 30 years.

“One of the fundamental changes has been from the negotiation of a strictly academic or scholarly agenda to one that addresses our social responsibility, that takes our work beyond the academy and seeks to establish links with the community,” Sanders said.

“The culture of research institutions emphasizes scholarly production and doesn’t necessarily create time and space where a social agenda can be valued,” he continued. “But the longevity of African American studies programs insists upon a balance, where faculty produce scholarly work as well as contribute to the social-responsibility mission.”

A number of events are planned to celebrate the program’s 30th anniversary, including a panel discussion, led by Aldridge, featuring African American studies program founders and directors from across the country, Feb. 21 from 4–6 p.m. in Harris Parlor. The next afternoon a group of alumni from Emory’s program will discuss their experiences in another panel held Feb. 22, also from 4–6 p.m. in Harris Parlor.

Finally, a banquet celebrating the anniversary will be held the evening of Feb. 22 in Cannon Chapel’s Brooks Commons, just before a jazz vespers service. Seats for the banquet must be reserved in advance.

A full calendar of African American Heritage events appears on page 7. To make reservations for the banquet or for more information about anniversary events, call African American studies at 404-727-6847.