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Some colleges and universities look to re-up their commitment to Black studies

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Florida International University anthropology professor Andrea Queeley, seen here teaching on the public university's campus in Miami earlier this year, has been fighting for years for the survival of the African and African Diaspora studies program.

Florida International University anthropology professor Andrea Queeley, seen here teaching on the public university's campus in Miami earlier this year, has been fighting for years for the survival of the African and African Diaspora studies program. Now the administration is committing to "enhance" it as part of a university-wide effort to battle racism and racial injustice. Leslie Ovalle for The Hechinger Report

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Florida International University anthropology professor Andrea Queeley has fought for years for the survival of the university’s master’s degree in African and African diaspora studies. It’s been under threat because of its small enrollment of three to six students per year.

Now, the university has made “enhancing” the program part of its new plan to work toward ending institutional racism.

The administration hasn’t made specific commitments yet — but Queeley, who is Black, said she wants to see the program expanded with new faculty and postdoctoral fellows.

During a class in March 2020, students at Florida International University in Miami discuss a book about a massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians by the Dominican Army in 1937. Some of the students were pursuing master’s degrees in African and African Diaspora studies. “Enhancing” the program is part of a university-wide effort to battle racism and racial injustice. (Leslie Ovalle for The Hechinger Report)

“There’s this moment of awareness, for pushing the agenda of justice further,” she said.

This moment isn’t specific to FIU. Schools around the country are offering grants for research projects on anti-Black racism. And some are committing to hire more professors whose expertise is in the study of race.

Washington University in St. Louis is one of those schools. It’s putting a million dollars into a new Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Equity and, beyond that, hiring a dozen new faculty members.

“I think of them, literally, as like the astronauts,” said Adrienne Davis, a Black law professor and the incoming director of the new center.

She said the new professors she plans to hire will approach dismantling racism like launching a spacecraft.

“You know, our university helped put the Mars rover on Mars. Great research universities solve the world’s problems,” she said.

At some institutions that have not made these kinds of commitments, faculty members are pushing for renewed support for Black studies.

According to the most recent federal data, 6% of college professors throughout the country are Black.

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