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College of Humanities & Sciences

Department of African American Studies


1967 An interracial group of approximately 20 students at the Richmond Professional Institute held a series of meetings to address race relations and to promote the establishment of an Afro-American Studies Program [AAS].  They created the Afro-American Studies Committee to advance their vision; this committee included faculty, students, and administrators.

1967-68 The Richmond Professional Institute became Virginia Commonwealth University through a merger with the Medical College of Virginia.

1969 The African American Studies Committee at VCU introduced two credit courses in AAS.  Afro-American Studies appeared in the University Bulletin under “Interdisciplinary Courses.”

1971 Professor Rutledge M. Dennis was appointed the first Coordinator of the African American Studies Program.

1977 African American Studies is offered as a minor at VCU.

1978-1983 Professor Chester Hedgepath, a joint appointee in the Department of English, served as Coordinator of the African American Studies Program.

1978 African American Studies students visited the West Indies.

1981 Two VCU seniors spent three weeks in Jamaica.

1982 The African American Studies Program reported that 5,000 students had enrolled in African American Studies courses since the start of the program.

1983-84 Dr. Daryl Dance, associate professor in the Department of English, served as interim Coordinator.  She played a key role in instituting the university’s Black History Month Celebration, the Black Awareness Quiz, and the Black History in the Making Program.

1984-85 Dr. Ann Creighton-Zollar, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, served as interim Coordinator.

1986-93 Dr. W. Avon Drake, assistant professor in Political Science, served as Coordinator of the Afro-American Studies Program.  Dr. Drake changed his title from Coordinator to Director.  Under his leadership, the program introduced a Distinguished Lecture Series. 

1988 The African American Studies Club began as a student initiative.

1990s The Office of Minority Student Affairs was created at VCU.

1993 Dr. Ann Creighton-Zollar served as interim Director of AAS.  She was elected chair of the Task Force for the Enhancement of African American Studies.

1995 Dr. Ann Creighton-Zollar was appointed to serve as the Director of the African American Studies Program.  She established a proposal for a major in AAS.

1997 State-level officials and the State Council of Higher Education [SCHE] opposed creating an African American Studies major.  VCU students and some officials protested these objections at a lunchtime rally at Shafer Court.  VCU’s Board of Visitors reaffirmed its endorsement of the program.  The SCHE rejected the major.  Public debate fumed over this controversy in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

1998 Dr. M. Njeri Jackson served as Chair of the Department of African American Studies.  Dr. Jackson, who died in 2010, was remembered as an outstanding administrator, educator, and thinker.  She directed a successful grant application from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy in which AAS faculty examined representations of African Americans at six presidential sites in Virginia.  She also took students every year to the Olive Harvey Annual Black Studies Conference in Chicago. 

2003 VCU offered a stand-alone major in African American Studies in the fall for the first time.  This made VCU the second school in Virginia to offer a B.A. in African American Studies.  The major included 120 credits (36 in AAS and 21 in AAS upper division courses).  The African American Studies Program celebrated this event with guest lectures, community events, and a PBS series titled “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”

2007 Dr. Shawn Utsey became Chair of the Department in 2007, and his leadership continued until 2013.  During this time, the department enhanced its engagement with the Richmond community. Dr. Utsey directed the Community Lecture Series during fall and spring semesters, which brought scholars to Richmond to interface with community members. He also created the Peep This Project-- a documentary filmmaking endeavor to target youth considered at-risk.  The VCU Council for Community Engagement funded this project, and it enjoyed the support of the Department of African American Studies, the Media, Art, and Text Program, the Department of Photography and Film, and the Family Resource Center in Richmond’s East End.

2013 Dr. Aashir Nasim became Department Chair and worked to build upon the legacy of the past to serve the needs of students, VCU, and the community.  Under his leadership, the department implemented a new strategic plan that focused on advancing the value proposition for students; broadening campus and community participation; and diversifying its funding portfolio. Under his tenure, the department grew to include seven core faculty and over 30 affiliate research faculty from academic and medical campuses. There are more African American Studies students as majors now than in its 44-year history at VCU; making it one of the largest undergraduate departments in African American Studies on the East Coast. In addition, the department has one of the highest amounts of grant funds per capita in VCU's College of Humanities and Sciences.

2014 In the January 2014, VCU’s University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee approved the restructuring of the African American Studies undergraduate curriculum for majors and minors. This represents the first major enhancement of the undergraduate curriculum since the program’s inception. In May 2014, the department will celebrate the conferring of the Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies to its 50th graduate over a 10-year period.

2015 Dr. Kimberly Brown became Interim Chair after Dr. Nasim accepted an appointment in the Provost's Office. Dr. Nasim currently serves as as Interim Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs.

2016 Dr. Shawn Utsey returned as Interim Chair. 

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