ASU offers unique African and African American studies BA online program

The events of this year have started a national conversation about systemic racism, social justice and the overall treatment of Black and other nonwhite bodies in the United States. As more Americans seek to educate themselves on the history of racism and injustice, the need for education in African American studies has increased. Arizona State University's School of Social Transformation...

The events of this year have started a national conversation about systemic racism, social justice and the overall treatment of Black and other nonwhite bodies in the United States. As more Americans seek to educate themselves on the history of racism and injustice, the need for education in African American studies has increased. 

Arizona State University's School of Social Transformation now offers its African and African American studies BA program online. The program's faculty head and Clinical Assistant Professor Mako Ward said today’s social and political climate brought a need for more accessible education in African and African American studies. 

“For over 20 years, the African and African American Studies major has educated generations of students on the global forces that impact African and African-descended people across the diaspora. In the midst of the health pandemic, it was essential for us to invest in quality online course offerings to meet the needs of our students,” Ward said. 

The African and African American studies program was founded in the mid-1990’s after a student protest. Though most African and African American studies programs began to emerge in the late 1960s and 1970s, the program has since made significant strides and is now one of two online African and African American studies BA programs in the country. 

In September, ASU President Michael Crow introduced his list of 25 actions to support Black students, faculty and staff. School of Social Transformation deputy director and Associate Professor Lisa Anderson said this program aligns with those initiatives and helps push the university in a more inclusive direction. 

“This program can enhance student learning outcomes; it affirms race and advances multicultural solidarity; and more generally, it demonstrates ASU’s commitment to Black students and faculty, although everyone can benefit from taking a course in AAAS,” Anderson said. 

AAAS Associate professor Dr. Lisa Aubrey and Maya Tatum

African and African American studies Professor Lisa Aubrey (right) and Maya Tatum

The curriculum is designed to introduce students to intersectional and transnational perspectives on the experience of African-descended people across time. Ward said courses in this degree explore the culture, art, histories and politics of communities across the African diaspora in the Americas, Caribbean, Europe and continental Africa.

Though the program has been available in person for a while, Ward said offering it online makes it available to an even more diverse demographic of students, and reflects the ongoing commitment of the School of Social Transformation to go beyond the president’s actions and offer everyday learning opportunities to students that motivate social change. 

“We are excited to offer our dynamic major to ASU Online undergraduate students, whose demographic diversity and life experience mirror that of many in the AAAS immersion program," Ward said. "Our curriculum provides the sociohistorical, political and cultural framework for understanding legacies of structural racism and intersectional anti-Black violence, and we offer the tools for students to activate social justice in their communities.”

Ersula J. Ore, Lincoln Professor of Ethics and School of Social Transformation associate professor of African and African American studies, notes that the degree amplifies studies across fields, especially with heightened support for the Black Lives Matter movement.  

“Whether it’s STEM, education, law or humanities, global citizens can neither move in the world nor be a force of impact upon it without a fundamental understanding of how Black culture, Black life, Black death and the Black body informs civil society,” Ore said. 

African and African American studies and women and gender studies Associate Professor Marlon Bailey said prospective students should explore the course list and see how each class uniquely explores the vast complexities of Black people and cultures outside of the U.S. The program has a diverse faculty whose studies include African diaspora history, gender and sexuality in Black cultures, critical race theories, Black feminisms and African American art.

There are many different routes to take with a degree like African and African American studies, but Bailey said the core of the curriculum is inspiring students to create positive change for the Black community. Bailey said the curriculum educates students on important aspects of Black history that can help support and inspire future activism. 

“To participate in social change, one must gain the necessary knowledge to be able to effect social change. Through AAAS, we want to train the next generation of leaders and movement-makers,” Bailey said. 

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Megan Barbera
mmbarbe3@asu.edu