College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

African American Studies Promotes Connections

Since the state’s first undergraduate-degree program in African American studies started at the University of Mississippi in fall 2004, its classes are becoming increasingly popular.  The 42-hour academic major offers an interdisciplinary curriculum in anthropology, art history, gender studies, history, literature, music, political science, and sociology.

“These are exciting times in the history of African American studies,” said Charles Ross, associate professor of history and director of African American studies. “The field is expanding and re-establishing itself with a broader context of the cultures, patterns of social organizations, political economies and relationships from around the world.”

Ross said that not even he predicted the excitement created by the interdisciplinary program.

“It’s incredible how our students have reacted to the program. Our classes fill up the week registration begins,” Ross said.  He linked the popularity of the program to “word of mouth” and from students who took a class or two as an elective.

“All of our courses meet humanities requirements for students in the College of Liberal Arts,” Ross said. “Students seem to enjoy the overall goals and objectives of the courses as electives, then discover they have a real intellectual interest in African American studies. We’ve had many students decide to minor or major in the program after taking a few electives.”

That’s why Nailah Horne decided to double major in psychology and African American studies.

“I was interested in taking one course, but, after I took that course, it evolved into something I just wanted to learn more and more about,” said Horne, a senior from Jackson. “I was born in South Dakota and grew up in Minnesota and didn’t get a chance to understand the sacrifices and struggles of the civil rights movement. More importantly, as a multicultural American—half black and half Asian—I simply wanted to learn more about African American women in history.”

Brian Foster agreed and said, “African American studies is unique. I chose the program because it promotes critical thinking and makes critical connections between and among a number of different disciplines, politics and cultures.”

Kimberly Smith, a 2007 graduate also agreed.

“I chose AA studies as my major because I was very interested in learning more about my heritage and why we as a people are the way that we are,” said Smith, a counselor for Arkansas Better Chance Early Childhood program.  “The courses really helped me put into perspective African American struggles and accomplishments as well as the mental and psychological issues we still deal with as  result of our history in America.”