An Illinois university has decided to increase faculty numbers in their Africana Studies department, a move that officials said will help students prepare for cross-cultural society after graduation.
Southern Illinois University officials plan to double the program's core faculty members from three to six, the Southern Illinoisan reported.
Chancellor Austin Lane said the viability of the program is as important now as it’s ever been.
“When we talk about research related to social justice, racial discrimination, systematic racism — these are also scholars that we’re hiring,” Lane said. “And they’re going to have an expertise in those areas and be able to help the campus as we continue to focus on diversity and inclusion activities.”
Lane said they want students to leave “ having some capstone experience as it relates to diversity and inclusion.”
Leonard Gadzekpo, the department’s interim chair for the past five years, said the university's plan is good news.
“For decades, we’ve not had any new faculty hires,” Gadzekpo said.
Gadzekpo said the department depends on faculty from other departments, including history and art teachers, to teach classes. He added that they still need seven to 10 core faculty members to operate up to standards, according to recent program reviews.
The department, founded in 1968, was originally called Black American Studies. The program is dedicated to the study of history and cultural traditions of African peoples, according to the department’s website.
Before 2010, Africana Studies was only offered as a minor. There were plans to return the program to its minor-only status, but that didn't happen.
Father Joseph Brown, a longtime Africana Studies professor, said he’s been asking for additional hires for more than a decade.
“In our department, the three core faculty, the median age is 70. Do the math. So this initiative is a blessing on every possible level," Brown said.
The goal is to have the new hires in place by next fall, Provost Meera Komarraju said.