Two Programs Become Full Departments

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Celebrating a Faculty Icon and New Department

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The African American and African Studies program had a dual celebration recently marking the elevation of the program to full department and the retirement of Professor Halifu Osumare. Osumare was program director when the application to become a department was made.

“We get to live in her legacy,” said Milmon Harrison, program director.

Getting to departmental level was a long and often slow task, said Osumare, a former dancer, scholar in the globalization of hip-hop, and author of the 2012 book The Hiplife in Ghana: West African Indigenization of Hip-Hop.

“It has not always been easy, but we all came together about building a program,” she said. “I thank my colleagues for giving me such a rich experience.”

Faculty membersgoing back to the earliest days of the program attended the celebration.

In the first years of theprogram, the very legitimacy of African American studies was questioned and often dismissed by leading scholars, said Professor Emeritus Carl Jorgensen, who came to UC Davis in 1971.

“This is what we were fighting for,” Jorgensen said. “I’m so thankful for the faculty and staff who worked so hard for this. I wish more of them were here to see this.”

Professor Emeritus John Ortiz-Hudson said, “I loved my affiliation with the program. I personally experienceda lot of growth and development.”

Ayo Walker, who recently completed her doctoral degree in performance studies at UC Davis and studied with Osumare, performed a dance/spoken word piece she created to honor Osumare. It included the lines, “You have guided me through the most difficult time of my life” and “I thought I had it all figured out but you were wiser.”

June 6, 2016 - The UC Davis Division of Humanities Arts and Cultural Studies (HArCS) has two new departments: American Studies and African American and African Studies have been elevated from programs to full departments.

Both programs go back several decades at UC Davis. African American and African Studies (originally called Black Studies) in 1969 became the first ethnic studies major at UC Davis. American Studies has been an autonomous program since 1971.

Important parts of division

“These are programs engaged in issues that cross many boundaries and are of great importance to scholars, students and the larger community,” said Susan Kaiser, interim dean of HArCS. “The programs have long been important to the overall goals and mission of the division, the college and the university. We are delighted to be able to see them become full departments, with well-deserved recognition of their value to the university.”

For many years, the programs drew faculty from a variety of departments in HArCS and the Division of Social Sciences, and beyond. While each has dedicated faculty, they have wide-ranging scholarly backgrounds including sociology, literature, film studies and anthropology as well as American studies and African American and African studies.

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American Studies a leader

“For over four decades, longer than any such program at any UC campus, American Studies has been at the forefront of conversations about social justice, sustainability, diversity and global issues,” said Julie Sze, American studies chair. “Our students become effective critical thinkers, develop excellent writing skills and ‘learn how to learn.’ Departmentalization formalizes a de facto situation that existed for a long time and gives us stability.”

African American studies at UC Davis was established just a year after the first African American studies program in the nation was started at San Francisco State University in 1968. 

Growing upward, becoming deeper

"Since the early 1970s, becoming a department has been the goal of African American and African studies,” said Milmon Harrison, program director. “It took a long time but could not have come at a better moment."

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Halifu Osumare

"Achieving departmental status will allow us to grow in many ways, building upon the many strengths we already have and exploring issues of continued relevance to African-descent communities around the globe."

Halifu Osumare, a recently retired professor, was program director when the formal submission for departmental status was made in 2014. 

“It feels really good that I’m leaving with this program as a department,” she said. “It can only go upward and get deeper from here.”