UB community celebrates 50 years of African and African American Studies

Students, faculty and alumni honor the program’s history


UB’s African and African American Studies program, one of the oldest in the country, celebrated its 50th anniversary Tuesday, eight years after merging into the Transnational Studies department. 

Students, alumni and UB community members gathered in 228 Student Union for the all-day celebration. Roughly 80 people attended the keynote address by Mark Anthony Neal, African American studies professor at Duke University and UB ‘96 alum. The following events included panels of department chairs, graduate students, undergraduate students and alumni along with various speakers throughout the day. Discussions touched on archives, representation at UB and the current state of the AAS program. Community members, students and alumni discussed improvements to be made in the black community and the department’s role in this change.

Organizers said they were disappointed that no one from the UB administration attended.

Transnational Studies Chair Cecil Foster, and professors Lillian Williams, James Pappas and Keith Griffler discussed the program’s history and their experiences. 

They said the celebration was important in order to share black history and continue the legacy of the department. 

“At one point, this campus was the hub of much that was happening in terms of the civil rights movement [and] black studies,” Foster said. “This university has contributed a lot to civil rights and the teaching and appreciation of African and African American studies over the years, so it's important that we celebrate that.”

Foster said AAS became isolated when it merged with four other UB departments. He said history was lost and alliances broke during this transition. 

Pappas said he feels the department lost its autonomy in the process.

“I completely reject the term Transnational Studies,” Pappas said.

Williams said the AAS program “stemmed from student activism.” She said AAS was “created out of protest” and led by Ph.D. students who taught, designed and implemented the program. 

Griffler said the celebration emphasized the importance of community in the discussion of racial issues.

“I think we have a responsibility as a society to always make sure we give due attention to questions of race and racism and constantly remind ourselves how far we still have to go,” Griffler said. “The only way we move forward as a society is if we come together as a community.”

James Ponzo, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Transnational Studies, proposed the celebration be held annually rather than once every decade.

The panel of chairs agreed.

James Dunn, a sophomore management major, said an important aspect of the celebration was its informational format.

“It definitely brings up a point that everyone should be aware and there shouldn't be a blind eye to what's going on because then it just continues to happen,” Dunn said. 

Jared Carter, a freshman computer science major, shared this sentiment. 

“I think no matter what race you are, you should learn about African American history,” Carter said. “You should go to events like this because this is what this country was built off of. Black history is the history of the United States.”

Foster said the department’s main challenges moving forward are sustainability, resources and student outreach. 

“Officials at the university will have to make some serious decisions about the future of a program like ours,” he said.

Williams said donations can be made directly through the AAS website for those wishing to support the program. Other proposals to grow program funds included community outreach and food fundraising.

Jacklyn Walters is a Co-senior News Editor and can be reached at jacklyn.walters@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @JacklynUBSpec.


Jacklyn Walters is a senior communication major and The Spectrum's managing editor. She enjoys bringing up politics at the dinner table and seeing dogs on campus.