Rice Looks to Enrich Students’ Lives with Center for African and African-American Studies

Upon its introduction last November, Rice’s Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) made two big promises: Within a year, the center would create a new minor expanding on the previous African Studies minor and develop an introductory African and African American studies (AAAS) course to anchor it.

Less than a year later, the new minor and new intro course have already arrived.

The minor and “Knowing Blackness: Introduction to African and African American Studies” will be available to undergraduates starting in the fall 2020 semester. Composed of 18 credit hours, the minor covers a broad spectrum of AAAS topics, from African prehistory to African American-Jewish relations.

But that’s not all. CAAAS has also developed a new graduate certificate program that will equip students with the expertise to teach and perform further research in African and African American studies by placing students within a larger national conversation.

Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion, is also the founding director of CAAAS. The joint venture between the School of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences was able to hit the ground running, Pinn said, thanks in large part to the amount of coursework already being produced between the two schools and their faculty.

“We had an existing arrangement of courses that cut across the humanities and the social sciences that really gives students some interesting topics to think about,” Pinn said of the coursework under the previous African Studies minor. The new AAAS minor includes 72 different classes across 10 departments and programs.

“We had so much rich material to pull from it wasn’t a matter of having to start from scratch,” Pinn said. “So what we really needed was an opportunity to think through how to best arrange those courses and then develop an intro course.”

That intro course will be taught by Alexander Byrd, associate professor of history and associate dean of humanities, a multiple-award-winning educator and Rice’s newest Piper Professor. Additional courses will be taught by Rice’s ever-growing staff of Africanists and expand into such important areas as the intersection of race and medicine, feminist and queer theory in the African diaspora, and Francophone African cultural studies.

“I think one of the things we learned through putting this minor together was that we have a rather significant group of faculty doing some really interesting things in the classroom,” Pinn said.

The graduate certificate is another way for students to take advantage of those courses while offering significant funding for future AAAS work.

Graduate students who successfully complete the certificate program receive a one-time stipend in the amount of $5,000. And grad students participating in the program are eligible to apply for travel and research grants of up to $1,000 per calendar year to defray costs related to African and African American studies.

As with the minor, the graduate certificate requires students to take coursework across multiple departments and two schools.

“For some of the students, it’s confirmation of the kind of intellectual work they’ve been interested in since arriving at Rice, if not before,” Pinn said. “So it’s a way for them to value that and to connect beyond their individual silos, right? We tend to do graduate work within the context of departments — and within those departments, within small cohorts of students.”

Through required colloquiums — three will be held each semester, with six required for the certificate — and other opportunities to present their research, grad students will be able to connect beyond their departments and find commonalities across divisions. Pinn anticipates the certificate program will be yet another valuable contribution to the close-knit graduate student community at Rice as well as the world at large.

“I think what graduate students at Rice often do is to reach out and form community around social and cultural issues, to find folks who are not simply like-minded, but who also look like them, have experienced the world like them, are dealing with the same sort of race and gender and class issues,” Pinn said.

“And so, this certificate adds another layer to that,” he said. “And does it in an intentional way that expands beyond connecting with folks who get your social circumstances or who get your cultural background, but it’s also offering the ability to connect with folks around longstanding and deeply important intellectual endeavors.”

UT-Arlington on Why We Celebrate Juneteenth

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Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” has been a day of celebration for more than 150 years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The University of Texas at Arlington hosted online events to celebrate its significance.

The day commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of the federal order ending slavery in the United States reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas—more than two months after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January 1863.

Pamela Safisha Hill, adjunct professor of social work and faculty affiliate with the Center for African American Studies, led a discussion on UTA’s School of Social Work Facebook page.

“Juneteenth is the official Independence Day for black people,” Hill said. “It started out as small community gatherings, and as people migrated from Texas to other parts of the world, they took the celebration with them. This year is historic, though, because everyone on the planet who watches the news has heard the word Juneteenth. This year will mark the year that the masses of black folk will celebrate Juneteenth.”

The Facebook discussion encompassed both distant and recent history, beginning with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and continuing to current events, including the Black Lives Matter movement and issues in higher education.

In a separate commemoration, the Office of Multicultural Affairs held an online trivia and paint night. The virtual event also explained the significance of Juneteenth and celebrated by painting the Juneteenth flag and playing trivia.

“While as a nation we have come so far since June 19, 1865, we have so much farther to go,” said Melanie Johnson, Multicultural Affairs director. “As a community we are committed to become educated and action-oriented to create inclusive and equitable change.”

The original Juneteenth flag, a unique symbol of American freedom and black history, was created in 1997 by the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation founder, Ben Haith. It uses the colors of red, white and blue—present in the flags for both the United States and Texas—to symbolize that enslaved Africans were in fact Americans. The flag includes an exaggerated star of Texas with a zig zag—“a burst of freedom,” Johnson explained.

Exclusive historical artifacts and photographs about Juneteenth and Texas history are available through the UTA Libraries and its Special Collections. One example is an engraving from the Dec. 16, 1865 edition of the popular New York illustrated newspaper Harper’s Weekly. It depicts Elizabeth Street in Brownsville, Texas, and was based upon a photograph taken just after the end of the Civil War.

“The image is a reminder that Texans of all races today should embrace Juneteenth not only as a time to celebrate the end of slavery in Texas, but also as a time to reflect upon the long and continuing struggle for racial harmony in America,” said Ben Huseman, cartographic archivist for the UT Arlington Libraries.

UT-Arlington Graduate Students Design Tech-Friendly Space for Future Arlington Rec Center & Library

Architecture students in the graduate program at The University of Texas at Arlington designed canopies, pods and other seating options for an outdoor Innovation Zone at the new East Arlington Rec Center & Library.

Architecture students in the graduate program at The University of Texas at Arlington designed canopies, pods and other seating options for an outdoor Innovation Zone at the new East Arlington Rec Center & Library.

The City of Arlington partnered with UTA’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs (CAPPA) on the design for an outdoor community working space with technology-centered features.

Located at 2025 Craig Hanking Drive and designed by BSW Architects, the new library and recreation center will replace the existing Hugh Smith Recreation Center and the East Arlington Branch Library. Both will remain open while the new library is under construction.

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