Cool classes: African American Studies; Bringing African American history to the forefront of higher education

By Deborah Cooper, Staff Reporter

Introduction to African American Studies is designed to outline the evolution, the goals, the philosophy and the method of African American studies or Africana studies, said Ph.D. Charles Becknell, Cultural Studies Instructor.
“It’s really situated not to discuss African American history from a beginning to an end period,” he said.
Becknell said there is a certain period of African American history that is discussed as one of the areas of focus in his class, while looking at the studies as a discipline, and that it important to understand the evolution, social, and political climate that has fostered African American studies into higher education.
“The core areas that we examine are important, which allow for a conversation on history, so it’s kind of imbedded in all of this,” he said.
Becknell starts with early African history as the start of human history in which history is examined in the context of oppression and white supremacy, he said.
“When we talk about early African American history we start with the 1400s, the beginning of the journey to America and move on up to the twentieth century while discussing the spirit of resistance, so we look at individuals who resisted colonization and who tried to eliminate enslavement in Africa,” he said.
The areas of African American history that are covered are sociology, religion, politics, also cultural production in the arts, and is really an overview of everything including economics, he said.
“So we look at all of the areas that would encompass a discipline,” Becknell said.
With fall of 2013 being Becknell’s fourth semester teaching the class, he said that enrollment has been strong every semester since he has been instructing the course.
Zachary Shank, Associate Dean of the School of Communication, Humanities and Social Sciences said, because the course is offered as an elective, students may be overlooking the class.
“The course has been taught since 2006 and has had its ups and downs, however, Mr. Becknell has brought stability to the course,” he said.
Shank said that word of mouth and student surveys conducted by the Cultural Studies Department are ways that the school is able to find out what classes peak students interest.
“These are great classes for understanding what it is to be human and for students to experience the voices that aren’t usually heard,” shank said.
Fitness Tech major, Santana Johns said he did not think about taking the class because he was focused on what classes are a part of his degree, also that he believes hip-hop relates to the class very much because artists rap about African American history and heritage.
“Hip-hop is major because it ties into African American culture, so if a student has already taken the Intro to African American studies, they won’t see hip-hop as some commercial product, it would be seen as being tied to a long historical experience of African Americans,” he said.
Becknell said that this is the appropriate course to introduce AA studies because it builds foundation for students to keep on learning.
“There’s room for so much more because when you look at it, you could have one class on black economics, one class on black politics, as well as one class on black cultural production and expression,” he said.
Becknell said that his father was the first Director of Afro-Studies at UNM 20-years-ago.
“I’ve always been immersed in Black studies,” Becknell said.
Becknell is an Albuquerque native and graduate of UNM, who also teaches African American history I and II at UNM.

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