Kierra Leggett | Editor-in-Chief
Beginning next fall Africana Studies (AFS) and Women’s & Gender Studies (WGS) could merge to form a single Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) major. The formation of this merger would lessen AFS and WGS to concentrations.
Proposed by the Task Force on Review of Academic Programs, the intent of the merger would be to improve the sustainability of the programs, which have traditionally had relatively low enrollment and graduation rates.
While the merger could potentially increase the low number of students who enroll and graduate from the two programs, Dr. Sheila Smith-McKoy, Director of both the African American Cultural Center and Africana Studies, feels that combining the two would strip them of their integrity. “Although I am certainly pleased that the programs will continue, I would love to see the university continue its commitment to Africana Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies without diluting either of the programs by combining them,” said Smith-McKoy.
Dr. Deborah Hooker, Director of Women’s & Gender Studies, also feels that the merger would do more harm than good. “While I understand the basis for the recommendation, I don’t agree with the proposal for a number of reasons,” said Hooker. “If we became concentrations under a general IDS degree, likely there would be no ‘efficiency’ savings, i.e., both programs would still need to be administered (as they are now) by advisors who guide students with their course selections, arrange internships, coordinate course offerings every semester, handle new course proposals, make sure faculty are offering needed courses, etc. In short, the same work would need to be done to offer the concentrations as to offer majors.”
Currently, the university requires each major to graduate a minimum of 19 students every two years. According to reports on the University Planning and Analysis Website, AFS awarded Bachelor of Arts degrees to 20 students between 2010- 2012, while WGS awarded Bachelor of Arts degrees to 23 students during this period.
According to Smith-McKoy, talk of the merger began in December of 2012 however the discussion was not facilitated “transparently.” Smith-McKoy, who says she never had the chance to present to the Task Force on why the programs should not be merged, feels that along with marring N.C. State’s chances at becoming an American Academy University (No American Academy University has a mixed AFS and WGS program), the merger could deter prospective students and faculty from the university. “I think that having a strong Africana Studies program and a strong Women’s & Gender Studies program helps recruit faculty and students who identify with these fields of study,” said Smith-McKoy. “It would be in our favor to support these programs.”
Created to ensure that the Provosts’ goal of providing a more comprehensive review of academic programs in the 2011-2012 school year was achieved, the Task Force on Review of Academic Programs is made up of 22 members. Seven of the members are women, and only one person on the force, Myron Ford, a Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management in the College of Natural Resources, is black.
It is statics like this which push Hooker and Smith-McKoy forward in advocating for independent AFS and WGS majors. “These programs benefit all students, whether they identify as women or as people of African descent, who value having the opportunity to engage in these fields through research and coursework,” said Smith McKoy.
Hooker continued, “Just as feminism isn’t ‘over,’ neither is the need for gender education. Students need to know how strongly ideas about gender impact their lives and how they interact with other identity categories–like race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class. Lacking that, students will not have the tools to interpret the world around them and to act productively and humanely within it. I would hate to see either of these majors and the important work they do rendered less visible.”
Even after all this time, there still seems to be a lack of understanding about why race and gender still matter, in addition to how race and gender cannot just be lumped into one bucket. While these programs may not graduate large numbers of majors, they have large numbers of students passing through the courses. These students can tell you why race and gender matter, how they interact, but also why it is critical to continue to treat them as independent programs. It would be good to know how diverse the task force is not just in their demographic breakdown, but also in their intellectual awareness around race/ethnicity and gender.
An important point to be made regarding the numbers of graduates is that maintaining and growing a Major requires dedicated and tenure track faculty who are involved in SCHOLARSHIP AND RESEARCH in addition to teaching. Since we instituted the AFS degree in 2006 (and even well before that time), the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies (CHASS) has been denied the opportunity to hire full-time tenure track faculty. Indeed, this is the case for all IDS programs (WGS, STS, Arts Applications, etc). Despite supposedly being at the core of its mission and strategic plan, if “Diversity” initiatives within the academic arena are not properly supported then it is difficult to believe that the university is serious in its commitment. It is difficult enough to attract students to these Majors now. To hide them under an Interdisciplinary Studies banner would make that all but impossible.