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May 13, 2004

African and African Diaspora Studies

Calvin College has received a two-year grant of just over $140,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to fund a new minor in African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS).

The minor already has been approved by Calvin's Educational Policies Committee and its Faculty Senate and now is headed to the May 20-22 Board of Trustees meetings for ratification.

Calvin professor of history Randal Jelks, will be the project director. Jelks (above) has a book coming out this fall about African Americans in Grand Rapids (called African Americans in the Furniture City: The Politics of Respectability and the Struggle for Civil Rights).

He says the new minor, if ratified by the Board, will be a plus for the college and the local community.

"The new minor," he says, "will draw together faculty and students interested in Africa who previously have pursued their interests pretty independently. Students who take the new minor will learn more about Africa's contributions to world culture, history and geo-politics. The minor also will address Calvin's commitment to globalizing its curriculum. And, we hope, it will serve the college by attracting potential students and faculty interested in working together in these areas."

In addition, Jelks notes, "this minor will also secondarily address Calvin's commitment to racial justice and multiculturalism."

The grant, says Jelks, will help Calvin expand its library and multimedia holdings on Africa, conduct faculty workshops, hold lectures in conjunction with the West Michigan World Affairs Council, create an African language course in Kiswahili, offer a film series and develop a course for area school teachers on teaching Africa.

Calvin officials note that the college already has a strong connection with African-American communities and an established relationship with the African continent. Almost 100 Calvin students this year are from Africa or of African descent. In addition Calvin has a semester program in Ghana and relationships with colleges in the countries of Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Eritrea, Kenya and South Africa.

The new minor would have two tracks, each of which would require a minimum of six courses.

One track would be a study of Africa and people on the African continent with courses in African Geography, African History, African Literature and African Politics.

The other track would examine the descendants of those who were dispersed from Africa, both through forced migrations, such as slavery, and voluntary immigration, especially throughout the Americas, with courses in African American History, African American Literature, the history of Africans in the Americas, Afro-Hispanic Literature, and Francophone African and Caribbean Literature.

Both tracks would conclude with a capstone seminar in African and African Diaspora Studies.

The Department of Education grant will fund about 50 percent of the new program's costs with Calvin contributing the other 50 percent.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)