Graduating student advocates encourage others to move forward with AAS protests
Advocacy for program to continue despite pandemic, Transnational Studies director says AAS hired three more faculty members
Jeffrey Clinton has been fighting for more support for UB’s African and African American Studies Program since he transferred to UB last year.
After getting what he called “the runaround” during a March 11 protest, Clinton promised he would return with local news outlets and more protesters to put more “pressure” on the school.
But the protest efforts were curtailed after UB moved to distance-learning on March 23, leaving the senior English major with nowhere to protest. From town hall meetings with the College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robin Schulze to protesting on the fifth floor of Capen, members of the Black Student Union, Black Council and African American Studies Academic Association have been uniting with other campus community members and demanding more black faculty and funding for the AAS program for at least five years.
Now, Clinton is one of many seniors who are “disappointed” that COVID-19 cut the final semester of their advocacy short. Clinton says graduating seniors can only look back at their efforts and hope to pass on what they’ve learned to help future students fight for the program.
Still, Clinton said he won’t allow graduating or the coronavirus to hinder his fight for the program.
“The fact is, we have to do this still,” Clinton said. “It’s not the school’s priority to listen to students without protests and it shows this anti-black nature at UB. UB doesn’t care about diversity like it says it does.”
In 2009, the AAS program had seven faculty members and the amount of faculty has since been declining with only one hire in 2011, according to Deborah Pierce-Tate, Assistant to the Chair of Transnational Studies. Cecil Foster, a professor of Transnational Studies, said he is unsure why each faculty member has left the program, but some have left for retirement or to go to other departments. Since 2011, the program has lost one full-time faculty member every two years, according to Pierce-Tate, and in 2019, the program had four full-time faculty members and one full-time adjunct professor.
Cory Nealon, a UB spokesperson, said CAS is committed to the program and creating a “diverse and inclusive” campus environment.
“The Department of Transnational Studies, the home of African and African American Studies, is currently pursuing three faculty hires to support AAS,” Nealon said. “The faculty in the department are entrusted with pursuing those hires with student needs in mind.”
At a Feb. 4 Town Hall Meeting between members of the Black Council and Schulze, Schulze said she “committed” $500,000 so the AAS program can separate from Transnational Studies and “relaunch.”
Chair of Transnational Studies Shaun Irlam said the money will be “phased over several semesters” and “roughly” $250,000 has been used to hire three faculty members and a senior appointment at the associate professor level for the AAS program. Irlam said the program will spend $250,000 per year for a period of three years on the three new faculty “with the expectation that those contracts will be renewed.”
“Although almost all hiring has been frozen across the SUNY system because of the pandemic, we have been allowed to proceed with these hires and put them in place for the fall,” Irlam wrote in an email. “So in short, we are very excited by these recent developments in the department and for the revitalization of African and African-American Studies at UB.”
Dean Schulze also discussed the SUNY-funded five-year PRODiG program, which will begin in Fall 2020 and is designed to increase minority hires.
Florence Ayeni, a senior health and human services major and BSU president, said she doesn’t believe the fight is over.
“I think there should be more organization and unity as well,” Ayeni said. “We are all students first, and the black council is something we all were a part of.”
Clinton said future students who plan to protest for the AAS program should build “bridges” with other student organizations and “create a space for themselves.”
Yousouf Amolegbe, Student Association president and senior aerospace engineering major, said he has taken 40 credits at UB and has only had one black professor and it was for an AAS course. Like Ayeni and Clinton, Amolegbe began his advocacy for black faculty and the AAS program as a junior.
“Working with [SA Treasurer] Kendra Harris, we created a platform and talked to different faculty and administrators,” Amolegbe. “Me and [Harris] had a one-on-one meeting with Dean Schulze and held meetings with members of the AAS department and meetings with the director for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion.”
Amolegbe said as SA president, he wanted to push the school toward the “growth” of the AAS program, but he said UB still has more work to do.
“Support for black faculty can increase and just improving our diversity amongst faculty in general,” Amolegbe said. “Different complications came about and I achieved as much as I could but it was not as much as I needed.”
Amolegbe said he can only hope future students and administrators continue to push for support.
Ayeni agrees and says this isn’t a change students can expect overnight.
“It will not happen immediately but if we keep pressing, they will see how much it is needed, which will make the change effective,” Ayeni said.
Ayeni advises future students to connect with faculty and to never take “no” for an answer.
“Keep fighting, keep voicing your thoughts and your opinions on things that are impacting you here,” Ayeni said. “And I really ask that you don’t leave, that you stay and you fight.”
Alexandra Moyen is a senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @AlexandraMoyen