Samantha B. Bonar

Occidental College will offer a new major and minor in Black studies (BLST) beginning in fall 2018. Associate professor of American studies Courtney Baker will chair the new program, which she co-crafted with American studies professor Erica Ball.

"I expect there will be a sense of affirmation but also a few surprises on the part of students as they discover what this rich intellectual tradition is really about," Baker said. "I am teaching Introduction to Black Studies right now, and one of the things that we keep coming back to is that this is a field about survival, justice and joy. I am both humbled and inspired every time I read this work. I hope that students will be, too." 

Black studies at Occidental will be a transnational and interdisciplinary study of the history, scholarship, arts and culture of people of the African diaspora. Black studies students will learn to examine the world and their local communities with an eye to Black people’s important and sometimes overlooked contributions, and to understand the ways the experiences of people of African descent have shaped and continue to inform campaigns for human rights. 

Students will participate in intersectional analysis of Black populations, paying close attention to how class, location, gender and sexuality have shaped Black identities, cultural productions and forms of political engagement both past and present. 

Faculty from politics, history, diplomacy and world affairs and English will offer the bulk of the courses that are cross-listed with Black studies and will count toward the major and minor. Additional faculty from the departments of music, art and art history, media studies, religious studies, French, sociology and critical theory and social justice will support the BLST program.  

The major will consist of 40 units, or 10 4-unit courses, including Intro to Black Studies and Black Studies Senior Seminar; six survey courses chosen from each interdisciplinary cluster (expressive forms, communities and histories, and politics and theory); and two additional electives. 

The Black studies minor is a five-course program consisting of one required core class (Intro to Black Studies), one elective from each interdisciplinary cluster and one additional elective. 

Classes to be offered include African-American Film: 1967-present (AMST 252); Rastafari (CTSJ 280); Joyful Noise: Black Literature and Musicality (ENGL 142); African American Religious Traditions (RELS 245); Race, Rights and Revolution in the Atlantic World (HIST 312); and Race and Law (POLS 347).

"I'm very excited about the way that the major is structured," said Occidental history professor Sharla Fett, a member of the seven-person Black studies advisory committee. "Interdisciplinary requirements for the major reflect key approaches to Black studies. When combined, these approaches offer powerful tools for criticism and analysis. It's very meaningful to know that students on campus now will have the opportunity to walk across the stage at graduation with a Black studies major or minor!" 

While currently cross-disciplinary, eventually the Black studies major and minor program hopes to develop into its own department. 

Following campus demand for a Black studies program, Baker and Ball were hired in May 2016 to lead the process of creating one at Occidental. The pair co-authored the program proposal outlining the course of study in consultation with numerous faculty on campus whose teaching and research involves Black studies’ topics, as well as co-curricular offices.