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Editorial: On the path to leadership

The addition of Chinua Achebe to Brown's faculty marks a bold step in the University's efforts to establish itself as a leader in Africana studies. With the "father of modern African literature" on College Hill, Brown's Africana studies faculty now includes several distinguished writers and scholars. Still, there is much to be done when it comes to increasing the University's impact on African scholarship. As Professor of Africana Studies Anthony Bogues told The Herald last month, "there is no way we can consider ourselves a leader at this point."

Fortunately, the University is considering a proposal that could go a long way toward changing that. For over two years now, the department of Africana studies has been pushing a proposal for an M.A./Ph.D. program. Last week, the proposal cleared the Faculty Executive Committee. If the faculty gives it a green light in early December, it will head to the Corporation for final approval.

There are a number of reasons to launch a graduate program in Africana studies. First, Brown has made a commitment to expanding research and discourse in the field. In 2007, following the release of the Report of the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, the University laid out a plan of action to acknowledge the history of Brown's connection to the slave trade. As part of that plan, the University committed to strengthening the Department of Africana Studies. A graduate program in the department would solidify this commitment and generate long-term contributions to African scholarship and dialogues about race. This action may be one of the most meaningful we can take as a university to address our connection to slavery and institutionalized racism.

In addition, the field of Africana studies is quickly expanding, and most of Brown's peer institutions offer Ph.D. programs in the discipline. Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Columbia all have graduate programs in African American studies. A graduate-level program here at Brown would not only bolster the reputation of our Africana studies department, it would also make the University more competitive in the academic arena. Brown's department of Africana studies is already robust, and as the University expands the Graduate School, it should capitalize on its strengths.

Perhaps most importantly, Africana studies is a distinct discipline that merits its own academic infrastructure. Though the field is interdisciplinary and shares much in common with history and literary arts, it is not simply a collection of courses about people of African descent. Rather, it has developed its own debates, texts and methodologies. Africana studies merits the same intellectual attention as other departments at Brown, and a graduate program would support high-level research and the advancement of knowledge in the field.

In recent years, Brown has focused increased attention on Africa and poured resources into attracting African scholars and students to the University. A graduate program in Africana studies is the logical next step in that effort. Brown may not yet be a leader in African scholarship, but as Professor Achebe told The Herald last week, the University has the resources to put itself "wherever it desires in the African field."

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials (at)


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