I would like to officially and warmly welcome Professor Jonathan I. Gayles as the new Chair of the Department of African-American Studies (AAS) at Georgia State University (GSU), effective July 1, 2019. Dr. Gayles has vision, experience, and is well-respected by our faculty throughout the University and within the discipline of African American Studies.
I was honored to serve as the Chair of AAS for the last eight years. Being Chair and faculty member of our department is a special charge. AAS at GSU was created due to the activism, sacrifice, and persistence of student activists in the 1980s and 90s with support from community, faculty, staff, and allies within the administration. AAS and the profession of Black Studies is born from the historic struggle of our people for self-determination and self-respect. The founding Chair, Dr. Charles E. Jones, who is acknowledged throughout our profession as an institution-builder, laid a solid foundation for our department. One of my goals as Chair was to build on my predecessor’s foundation in the spirit of our commitment to academic excellence and social responsibility.
The enrollment of our graduate and undergraduate program is steadily increasing. We announced our first endowed scholarship, the Lucille Adams Scholarship, in 2015 and have since awarded four recipients. Sarita Davis, our Graduate Director, has meticulously worked to provide leadership in increasing the enrollment, retention, and maintaining high graduation and placement of our MA students. Spearheaded by the demand of graduate students in the College of Arts and Science, we now have a Graduate Certificate in African-American Studies. Africa-American Studies courses are also being taught for the first time on Perimeter campuses with the consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College in 2015. Colleagues at the Perimeter campuses are developing a Pathway to the AAS major for two-year students. Professor Jamae Morris organized an excellent Undergraduate Research Symposium featuring the intellectual work of our majors in 2019. Professor Makungu Akinyela reinitiated our Study Abroad Program with three trips of undergraduate and graduate students to South Africa to study race, class, and gender in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Building on the research strengths of our faculty, we have also revised our undergraduate major program. Our students can choose concentrations in 1) Health and Human Development for students seeking careers or pursuing research in mental or public health; 2) Community Empowerment and Social Justice for students with interests in policy, politics, non-profit development, and activism; and 3) Arts and Aesthetics for our majors desiring to focus on the interpretation or production in the arts. We have also added a requirement for our undergraduate majors to take a course focused on gender and sexuality.
Our faculty grew in rank in the last eight years. Two of our faculty were promoted to (full) Professor and another two to Associate Professor. We have grown from a faculty with five Associate Professors and two Assistant Professors to a faculty with two Professors, four Associates, two Assistants, and the hiring of the first full-time Lecturer, Dr. Lisa Shannon. Dr. Shannon received her B.A. from our department and is the first alumni from our program to be hired in a full-time position. Dr. Shannon has been effective in mentoring students, recruiting AAS majors, and engaging in social responsibility initiatives. Our faculty has published three books (one from Maurice Hobson and two by me), two documentaries (by Jonathan Gayles) in the last eight years, which have all won national awards.
AAS has organized and co-sponsored significant programs the last eight years, including the New Research on Africana Women Symposium in 2012 and two conferences commemorating the 1992 GSU Sit-in “Through the Fire” in 2012 and the “NAH.”: Centering Black Life, Voice and Space Resistance Summit in 2017. We also invited important artists, scholars, and activists such as Amiri Baraka, Leon Dash, Melina Abdullah, Venezuelan Diplomat Jesus Chucho Garcia, Jeffrey O. Ogbar, Deborah Gray White, and Sekou Odinga. Professor Lia Bascomb’s collaborations with other departments, including Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Latin American Studies, have also enriched our department’s programming. Our annual Kwanzaa and Student Appreciation Day programs have been well-attended and supported. I must acknowledge the great work of our Business Manager Belinda Futrell and Administrative Assistant Tiffany Bullock in organizing these and other events.
Our department has always been recognized on campus and nationally for its civic engagement. We have continued this emphasis as our students commit thousands of hours annually with organizations and institutions serving the African-American community. Dr. Jamae Morris’s students have organized annual participation of AAS students in the AIDS Atlanta Walk. My students have done research for Black Lives Matter Atlanta, Southerners on New Ground, Project South, the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Professor Maurice Hobson has become a visible presence in the Atlanta community offering his expertise to several community-based organizations and local and national media outlets. Our students have also secured internships with Forever Family (serving children of the incarcerated), A Healing Paradigm (mental health providers), and the Davis Bozeman Law firm (engaged in civil rights activism).
The department has received critical support from alumni and community people during the last eight years, which involved the formation of an Advisory Board. Two of our Advisory Board members, Sandra Barnhill (2012) and Shaan Trotter (2015), received acknowledgment from the College of Arts and Sciences as Outstanding Alumni.
AAS is in a good place and Dr. Gayles is well-equipped to take us to new levels in the future. I expect our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community to continue their support for our department and its mission of academic excellence and social responsibility. Thank you for all of your support. Let’s continue! We are not done!!!