In Response to the Denial of the Africana Studies’ Spring 2015 Request for its History/Diaspora Position.

Good Afternoon President Bottomly,
Thank you for your response on this urgent matter.
I am responding to this matter from the viewpoint of a student who greatly sees the need for the Africana Studies department to teach the histories of the African continent and Diaspora, and as President of WASA, the Wellesley African Students’ Association.

There is already so much negativity surrounding every and any activity involving the continent and its Diaspora. As a self-identified Pan Africanist on this liberal campus of ours, I rarely see any effort from the administration in support of matters the African continent. Why? This may be because faculty, staff and students do not know its history or its beginnings to understand why certain matters are important to those who identify with the continent and its Diaspora and why, in this case in particular, the “temporary” denial of the Spring 2015 request is alarming. The Africana Studies department is alarmed because this fundamental position in the department, the History/Diaspora position, is one that prides itself on being in existence since the days of its founding. Africana Studies does have every right to be alarmed since it cannot search for a well-qualified person to begin teaching by Fall 2016. The fact that the board is delaying this further by taking a moment of pause and opting to have a conversation in the Fall with senior faculty, which indirectly will be a delay, means this matter is not being taken serious enough. An urgent matter such as this cannot wait till September. It needs to be addressed now. Any slight delay means the new faculty member recruited might have to start teaching Fall of 2017 rather than the department’s preferred Fall of 2016.

This position in Africana Studies, no matter how similar it may be to the appointments made in American Studies, Art History, English, and History, is, as I am sure you all know and have heard multiple times, the core of the department. I am particularly tired of being told someone is an “Africa(n) Expert” while we know all too well such a person has never stepped foot on the continent. No matter how advanced the Ph.D., the history of Africa has to be told by the African or a person who has lived on the continent long enough to speak of it. I am sure we are all familiar with the “sleeping continent”/Africa statue in front of the former US Custom House in New York City. This is what the Africana Studies department will look like without its core; dark and asleep. As much as some may like the idea of the various histories of Africa not being told or being skewed in the favor of the West, I would like to let you all know, on behalf of the African Students’ Association (WASA), that we are watching. We are watching closely. Yes, improve the curriculum to keep with the evolving nature of the field of Africana Studies but do not silence its core. Yes, ensure that the mentoring of untenured faculty exists but do not silence its core. No matter how much controversy this core position has held in the past since its founding, it should never be silenced.

Leaving the department without this position again for the 2015-2016 school year is enough to leave it silenced and broken; especially now, with the African continent having an identity crisis of various forms. We can take classes blaming various countries and disease but there will still be a void if the histories of various African countries and Diaspora are not taught. Students will be left not knowing important names of the PanAfrican movement of the 50’s and 60’s, the Civil Rights Movement, the various reasons why people from the African continent and Diaspora act the way they do, etc. With the stories of prominent leaders like Nkrumah, Sankara, Mobutu, etc, not being told, how then will a student who is expected to be a global citizen relate to the peoples of other continents? No one likes a close minded student body. The world needs to know of the history. Wellesley is an example of a 500 acre subset of this world which has become de-sensitized to the atrocities occurring on the continent. We see it in the news all the time. Africa being painted BLACK. Anything that begins positively ends up with a storyline reminder of a bad act. We are seeing it with Obama’s visit to Kenya. Couldn’t this positive act only be shown without the frequent reminder on CNN of the unfortunate terrorist happenings? Do we expect the students at Wellesley to listen to degrading news stories to find out about a continent’s past, present and potential future? We saw it in the Ebola coverage. We saw it with the coverage of Ghaddafi. We have seen it with the sudden deaths of various African leaders who tried to move away what is considered right by Western powers. We have seen it with the portrayal of the peoples of certain regions in Africa as white in historical films even though we know what they were before the Arab takeover we see today. I can speak of all this because I know of the continent’s history, something which it seems the Africana Studies will not be able to teach until 2017 or later. What happens when we have our history told by others? It becomes whitewashed and this is exactly what we are seeing in various media coverage today.

The History/Diaspora position is necessary. Kindly approve the Africana Studies’ request submitted in Spring of 2015 as soon as possible so a search can be conducted this year. This “temporary” denial is uncalled for as the department needs to fill the position this year.

I am writing in solidarity with the Africana Studies Department itself, Alumnae of the Africana Studies Dept and the numerous represented cultures of Africa on this campus that make up WASA, Wellesley’s African Students Association.

Thank you.

[Cindy Coffee | President]