Discourse / Editorials / Featured / May 3, 2017

Thoughts from the Embers: Africana Studies deserves expansion

In light of student pressure on the college to reconsider Visiting Professor of Africana Studies Kwame Zulu Shabazz’s planned departure, the Editorial Board would like to encourage Knox’s administration to consider two key aspects of the situation.

We do not feel able to comment specifically on Shabazz, as he has not commented on the situation himself or explicitly indicated if he would like to remain at the college in the future.

However, the situation highlights that the college should be looking for ways to expand its Africana Studies department, as well as other departments that lack faculty members and resources.

Currently, Shabazz is the only faculty member exclusively devoted to teaching in Africana Studies. He is filling in for Professor of Africana Studies Fred Hord, who is currently off-campus, and the only professor exclusive to the department previously.

Other professors also teach classes in the Africana Studies department, though they are also involved in other departments on campus, sharing their time across disciplines.

We understand that the financial situation is complicated and that the money for another professor in the Africana Studies Department may not currently exist. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, one student at Knox graduated with a degree in African American/Black Studies in 2015 Ð 2016.

With a small number of majors, it may seem difficult or unreasonable for the college to hire more faculty, especially in comparison to majors like Creative Writing, which had 28 majors last year. However, there are currently 63 students in a single section of the Intro to Africana-Studies course this term, which is being taught by Shabazz. The Knox College website states that the student to teacher ratio is 12:1 with an average class size of 16 students. We of course understand that this number fluctuates and that introductory classes often see higher than average numbers.

Still, interest in Africana Studies clearly exists. This student interest should be embraced and indicates that expansion is needed. More professors in a department means that a greater number and more diverse set of classes can be offered each term. With more professors, students have more opportunities to connect with individuals that may draw them to the department and specific classes. These additions could help the department expand and grow.

The discussion around Shabazz’s possible departure also raises the issue of the number of faculty of color currently at Knox. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 84.5 percent of Knox’s full-time faculty members in November 2013 were white and 14.6 percent were minorities. This was the most recent data available.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System reported that in the fall of 2015, 53 percent of students were white. We do not expect the number to correlate perfectly, but there is a clear discrepancy in the representation of faculty compared to the student body.

Associate Professor of Sociology Teresa Gonzales spoke with The Knox Student about the strain specifically put on faculty members of color when supporting students and the importance of bringing more faculty of color to campus.

The college can look to current faculty of color for suggestions on how to retain and recruit a more diverse faculty body, however, it should not be their responsibility to solve the problem. The entire Knox faculty and administration should develop a statement indicating its commitment to bringing in faculty of color and work on providing resources and supports for them coming to campus.

We understand that, in this moment, funding may be preventative in retaining Shabazz or expanding the department next year. However, as the college moves forward in hiring decisions, we believe it is important for the college to keep in mind what departments may need expansion and additional support and how it can go about better recruiting and retaining faculty of color.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  africana studies Brother Shabazz discourse diversity editorial embers faculty thoughts from the embers

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