Symposium celebrates 20th anniversary of African diaspora studies doctoral program

Priya Sundaresan/Staff

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The African American studies department held a two-day event, entitled the Black Currents Symposium, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the campus doctoral program in African diaspora studies last week.

The event featured multiple panels with campus African diaspora studies doctoral alumni, students and faculty members.

At the Friday symposium, campus professor Stephen Small opened the event with a brief speech, highlighting the program’s progress since its beginning in 1997. Small said graduate students in the program played a large role in the program’s founding and success.

“We (the faculty) were not the ones who took the biggest risk,” Small said in regards to creating the program. “The people who took the biggest risk were graduate students.”

In one panel titled, “Life Before and After the Ph.D,” alumni Dr. Kelley Deetz, Dr. Robeson Taj Frazier, Dr. Justin Gomer, Dr. Asia Leeds and Dr. Carter Mathes spoke about their experiences in the program and discussed the way the African diaspora studies doctoral program continues to play a key role in education.

Deetz, who is now a research associate at the James River Institute for Archaeology and visiting assistant professor at Randolph College, said as an interdisciplinary scholar within the African American studies department, she can “step into different traditional disciplines” within her work environment.

African American studies department chair Ula Taylor highlighted the program’s influence in transforming the academic academy because not many universities offer African American studies. She also said the program’s interdisciplinary training has allowed the exchange of knowledge relevant to intersectionality within the African American experience.

Small said he is hopeful for the future of the doctoral program in African diaspora studies, adding that the program will “continue to thrive because of the intrinsic African American experience as part of the United States.” He said interest in African American studies has grown since its start 20 years ago, adding that students from all over the world continue to apply to the program.

Contact Adrianna Buenviaje at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adriannaDC.