AARON SKUBBY, News Editor—The Black Studies department is celebrating its half-century anniversary of interdisciplinary study that has profoundly influenced both the social sciences and humanities.
In honor of this milestone, the department will be hosting a celebration titled “Hope of the Ancestors: Still We Rise” with special guest Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry.
Dr. Harris-Perry is an accomplished professor, political commentator, TV host, and author who will be headlining the celebration with a lecture titled “Campus and Community: Continuing the Legacy of Equity, Education, and Power,” which will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20 in Swasey Chapel.
Dr. John Jackson, co-chair of the fifth Anniversary Planning Committee along with Dr. Terrance Dean, explained why they found Dr. Harris-Perry would make a great keynote speaker.
“She is a major voice in this country… but her scholarship also digs into the black cultural grass roots,” he said. “She is the kind of figure that embodies what the field is all about. Her transformative contributions in the area of scholarship and political science regarding black women make her seem as the kind of person who would best represent the history and current focus of the black studies program.” Jackson explained.
Jackson explained the origins of the Black Studies department at Denison. “Around 1968, students on a number of college campuses across the country started demanding black studies as a way to honor the contributions of African Americans to American society… the same thing happened at Denison, when students went on strike boycotting classes to press for that sort of curricula innovation,” he said.
Jackson continued to explain the early attempts at creating black culture classes.
He mentioned that English Professor Emeritus Bill Nichols taught a black culture course which filled Slayter Hall with about 250 students, where he would host black speakers and activists from across the country as guest speakers.
Dr. John Jackson is no stranger to the rise of the black studies department at Denison. He began working at Denison in 1974 as Associate Dean of the Chapel, then becoming Dean of the Chapel. In the early 1980’s Jackson moved into working in Black Studies.
Jackson explained the evolution of the program during his time at Denison. “The program has evolved around our early focus, which has been to spotlight a triangular relationship between North America, Africa, and the Carribean,” he said. “People in all kinds of disciplines across the college have contributed to the program. But the evolution of the program has been through the expansion of the curriculum,” Jackson continued.
Denison’s Black Studies program has grown in size, and now features a core faculty as well as cross listed faculty.
Jackson ended with optimistic hopes for the future of the program, “the field nationally is actually growing, when some other humanities departments nationally are shrinking. So our student enrollment remains relatively high, and so over the next 50 years we hope we can experience similar growth as we did in the last 50.”