Africana Studies students voice concerns for program’s lack of funding and faculty

Students and faculty gathered at a forum March 30 to discuss concerns for the future of the Africana Studies program. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

For junior Africana Studies major Zaynab Ali Salahuddin, the shortage of faculty and funding faced by Africana Studies stands not only as a threat to students currently enrolled, but to the future of the program itself. 

Africana Studies students attempting to register for their courses for the spring 2022 semester were shocked by the lack of classes and professors offered by their program, according to Ali Salahuddin. In an attempt to compensate for Africana Studies classes that were not offered for the semester, she said she had to register for substitute elective classes from other departments. 

Ali Salahuddin attended an Africana Studies forum alongside other students on March 30 to share her frustrations, where she had the opportunity to discuss her concerns with members of the program’s faculty.

Students present during the session were passionate to receive an explanation for the lack of course availability and the harm it may have upon their degree progression. 

“The problem that the Africana Studies Department is facing is that there are not enough professors available to teach courses,” Ali Salahuddin said. “As a result of that, students majoring and minoring in [Africana Studies] are unable to complete their course requirements before their graduation deadline.”

The Africana Studies department was first established in 1969 to address concerns expressed by USF’s Black student movement during the ‘60s, particularly in response to the program’s prior focus on Western civilization. 

Faculty shifted the aim of the program to the study of African history in the ‘90s, and it has since stood to provide a space for students to learn more about the global Black diaspora. 

Africana Studies experienced a major transition when it was condensed to a program under the School of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies (SIGS) in 2015, according to associate professor of Africana Studies and Women and Gender Studies Cheryl Rodriguez. 

A lack of student interest has contributed to Africana Studies being maintained as a smaller area of study, she said. As a result, the program faces a reduced budget for faculty salaries. 

“We’ve always been a small department, and I think it’s because of the fact that we haven’t been able to generate the minimum number of majors that the administration would like to see, which then keeps us small,” Rodriguez said. 

“I think that if we had more faculty, we could generate more interest … Historically we’ve just been a small department, and if we were allowed to grow a little bit, there would be more students who would find us.”

Students looking to graduate as an Africana Studies major are required to take five core classes and seven elective courses for a total 36 major hour course load, according to the USF website for Africana Studies.  

Not all of the department’s hired professors are actively teaching or are scheduled to teach in the fall semester, as seen in Degreeworks. 

Many students that have fulfilled their major prerequisites have to cross-list, or be referred to take necessary classes from different departments, courses to guarantee their degree progressions.  

SIGS Undergraduate Director and associate Africana Studies professor David Ponton presided over the March 30 forum to address student concerns. Sharing the frustrations expressed by the students, he said the current model of instruction is not the most ideal for students or professors, as both continue to face challenges posed by the same structural barriers. 

“Generally, universities don’t invest as much in terms of resources in [humanities] programs,” he said. “They are programs that focus on marginalized subjects, and it’s not surprising that they also get marginalized within the neoliberal university. 

“It’s a lot more difficult for humanities folks, who often at times graduate with their bachelor’s degrees and start in a low level career but at some point, evolve into different kinds of professionals.”

Not only would increased funding serve to remedy the lack of faculty, but provide students a greater selection of course offerings, according to Rodriguez. 

“We want scholars who focus on pop culture because we know that would resonate very well with students, and we also need scholars who can teach about slavery,” she said. “If the money is not there to hire new faculty, we will continue to face a funding issue.”

The value of an Africana Studies education is something Ponton said he hopes will persist regardless of the issues the Africana Studies program may face in the future. 

“If students don’t major or minor in Africana Studies, then the university will not see a need to invest in the program. If the university doesn’t see a need to invest in the program, that’s going to lead to more deterrence.”