Petition calls for Black Studies awareness


By Alex LaBee

Correction: A cutline for a photo that accompanied this story said Kendra Fleshman is a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, but Fleshman is not a member of the sorority.

A petition at the Center for Black Studies is calling for university administrators to ensure the existence of the center after the program prioritization process.

The petition was started by students and addresses the lack of support for Black Studies within the larger NIU community, said LaVerne Gyant, Center for Black Studies director. Black Studies is an interdisciplinary program that studies the experience of black people in the United States.

Gyant said she has “serious concerns” about how the department will fare during NIU’s program prioritization process. Prioritization involves a review of the university’s programs to determine mergers, cuts and increases in funding in accordance with recommendations from a task force.

Gyant said the lack of support is detrimental to NIU’s mission because the Center for Black Studies and other cultural centers play a large role in helping minority students succeed academically.

“Many of the students realize that they would not have been able to make it through NIU were it not for the center,” Gyant said. “Our institution is in many cases the lifeline for students of color.”

Black Studies offers eight courses a semester. Students have expressed interest in adding more, but lack of funding and a consequent small faculty size limits what the center can provide, Gyant said.

Black Studies expansion

The petition also calls for Black Studies to be kept as a minor and expanded into a major, increasing the amount of Black Studies faculty and instructors.

Miki Grace, Black Student Union vice president, said if Black Studies becomes a major, faculty within the department might be able to influence the broader university curriculum to make it more diverse.

“We’d like more course curriculum, diverse books, authors who go into African American thought and experience,” Grace said.

Making Black Studies a major would allow the center to better serve students’ academic needs while challenging the perceptions students and faculty have about Black Studies as an academic discipline, Gyant said.

“Our challenge is having people on campus realize that Black Studies is a legitimate field,” Gyant said. “It’s not just a feel-good field. We are just as rigorous as other disciplines. That’s what students want to prove to the university.”

BSU President Adewale Adetunji said one of the main purposes of the petition is simply to raise awareness of Black Studies.

“A lot of students don’t know about the minor or the program period,” Adetunji said.

Adetunji said it’s important for people from any background to have a knowledge of other cultures, and non African American students can benefit from learning about African American history and culture.

Black Studies “is for the whole diverse NIU community,” Adetunji said.