February 10, 2014
In April 2003, the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) approved VCU’s Department of African American Studies as a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) program. It was the first stand-alone major in African American Studies in the Commonwealth.
Today, the Department of African American Studies celebrates the awarding of the B.A. in African American Studies to more than 50 graduates since the 2003-2004 academic year. Graduates of the department have pursued masters and doctoral degrees in education and public health as well as employment in governmental, private and public agencies. “Indeed, graduates of African American Studies enter graduate and professional programs with a strong sense of accountability and purpose and a desire to promote social change through the pursuit of community and scholarly exchanges,” says Dr. Aashir Nasim, Chair of VCU’s Department of African American Studies.
On May 10, 2014, the department awarded ten students with the B.A. in African American Studies, increasing the total number of graduates from the program to 56. The majority of student’s who graduated this year were double majors in other disciplines such as English, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Political Science, and Psychology. According to Dr. Nasim, the number of students graduating with double majors is by design. “We encourage our students to enhance their academic experiences by pursuing interdisciplinary programs of study that provide complementary knowledge and skillsets to solve the world’s problems,” he says. “The double major is one way to do this.”
Recent graduates in African American Studies seem to agree on the value of the double major. Tess Simms, a graduate in African American Studies and English, says “ I feel like I have a foot up on all of my fellow English students. This advantage has become apparent in African American Literature, my Literature, Race and Law English Seminar, and even when reading Othello for Shakespeare in Context. I have an advanced worldview thanks to African American Studies that has benefited me in my undergraduate studies and will continue to improve my education as I continue my graduate studies.”
Bria Brown, a May 2014 graduate in African American Studies and Psychology, reports “Majoring in African American Studies has undoubtedly prepared me for the next step in my academic career as I have acquired many competencies through my studies. Courses in African American Studies have developed many of my academic abilities in research, rhetoric, and critical analysis. African American Studies has prepared me to take on various challenges personally and academically and has stimulated my growth as a student and as an individual.” Bria will be attending The George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health in the Master of Public Health program this upcoming fall.
Other graduates such as Shaundrea Carrington already are enrolled in a graduate program. Shaundrea, who graduated with a double major in African American Studies and Early & Elementary Education this spring, was accepted into VCU’s Master of Teaching program last fall.
Importantly, not all graduates pursue graduate study immediately. For instance, Maya Simpkins, a graduate in African American Studies and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, says she intends to pursue employment with a non-profit group focused on prison reform. Maya attributes her desire to effectuate change in the prison system through her courses and experiential learning experiences from both majors. Mame Adjei, a graduate in African American Studies and Political Science, also will delay graduate school and says “I plan on taking the year off to work as an intern, or even a full-time position. Meanwhile, I will be studying for the LSAT's and begin to apply to law schools soon.”
Whether heading to graduate school or taking a year off to work for a non-profit organization, graduates in African American Studies leave VCU more aware, more confident, and more engaged than the average graduate. “The writing and critical thinking skills that I have gained from working tirelessly in many of these classes has prepared me to truly be well-equipped to face any academic and professional endeavors and/or challenges head on, with confidence,” says Mame Adjei.
“Our goal in African American Studies is to provide our students with high quality academic experiences to prepare them for the 21st century workforce or graduate and professional school. The class of 2014 is a reflection of this goal” says Dr. Nasim.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014! What a truly wonderful 50 it has been!!!