Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: More professors needed in African American and African Diaspora Studies department

<p>Kevin D. Brown, Richard S. Melvin Professor of Law at the Maurer School of Law, chats with students on Zoom before his Race, American Society &amp; the Law class begins Wednesday. Brown was a student in the African American Diaspora Studies program at IU in the 1970s. </p>

Kevin D. Brown, Richard S. Melvin Professor of Law at the Maurer School of Law, chats with students on Zoom before his Race, American Society & the Law class begins Wednesday. Brown was a student in the African American Diaspora Studies program at IU in the 1970s.

Editor's Note: Alicia Harmon is a junior with an interdepartmental major in sociology and African-American Diaspora Studies.

The African American and African Diaspora Studies department has concerns and goals related to staffing, enrollment, recruitment, and funding that are important to address on the student and administrative level. 

Increasing faculty numbers and enrollment are among the department's main concerns. These increases would also support the department’s goal of increasing academic opportunities for students. 

While the department appears to be in the process of working through these concerns and goals, it’s important to remain aware of what’s happening in the department so that students and alumni can actively support it.

Valerie Grim, director of AAADS undergraduate studies and professor of AAADS, said IU’s AAADS program has been particularly focused on enrollment, faculty numbers and funding in recent years. 

The department has generally had administrative support since it was established, and this support continues, Grim said. However, the department has not been exempt from adversity. 

Grim said the AAADS department has needed more funding to build strong programs, offer competitive graduate recruiting packages, hire new faculty, invite speakers relevant to Black students and support students and faculty in pursuing new opportunities. 

Rick Van Kooten, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the university is actively addressing resourcing issues in the department by providing more funding than the department had before he became dean. He also acknowledges the importance of the department.

“And it’s always important but the events of the summer really do stress the need to have a strong department of AAADS,” Van Kooten said.

Faculty listing and numbers

Increasing the number of credit hours taught in the department is important when it comes to increasing funding. Grim said credit hours are assessed by how many students are enrolled in department classes. An increase in the number of students taking classes means an increase in credit hours. This increase in credit hours and student enrollment means more money generated for the department. 

“But in our case, because we have a small number of faculty and at least half of our faculty is jointly appointed somewhere else, then that reduces the number of credit teaching hours that come directly to AAADS,” Grim said. 

Along with faculty listing, the department needs more majors, minors and students enrolling in department classes to help address this issue.

Grim also stressed that the department needs more faculty listed solely in the AAADS department since this would leave faculty less divided and improve the number of credit hours taken in the department, which would support increased funding. Grim said that in external reviews she’s done of Black studies departments across the nation, faculty listing is the most consistent concern.

Grim said the department includes six tenured professors, one tenure-track professor, one lecturer, two visiting professors and three professors of practice for the performing arts. 

[Related: LETTER: The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences addresses the budget for AAADS]

Despite IU’s hiring freeze due to the coronavirus pandemic, which was announced March 23, 2020, the department has been authorized a senior hire of a new full professor, another faculty hire and the coming transition of a non-tenure visiting assistant professor to a tenure-track position, Van Kooten said. A department about the size of AAADS would typically hire new faculty every three or four years as well as after a faculty member retires, Van Kooten said. However, after the 2008 recession, faculty numbers went down 10-15% across the College of Arts and Sciences. AAADS shows proportionate trends in hiring, retirement, and departures, Van Kooten said. 

Graduate student support

Support is not limited to improving faculty numbers, but also to increasing financial support for graduate students in the department, which has been desperately needed as many IU graduate students face economic struggles.

[Related: Grad student workers disagree with IU on a big issue: How much is their work worth?]

“We’ve increased the support for graduate students by 22.4% since I’ve been dean, or $72,000,” Van Kooten said. 

This increase in graduate student funding would mean more graduate students and/or more stipend money per graduate student in the AAADS department, he said.

Van Kooten said starting in the fall 2021 semester, graduate student minimum stipends will increase to $18,000 for some College of Arts and Sciences departments and the entirety of the college will reach this new minimum stipend by 2022. However AAADS graduate students will receive their stipend increase in fall 2021.

Increasing undergraduate enrollment

The department has further goals with classes and enrollment as well. According to data provided by Van Kooten, the department’s offered credit hours have remained fairly constant over the last decade. Based on data from the first week of each fall semester provided by Van Kooten, the number of AAADS majors has consistently averaged 13 students over the last decade, and the number of minors has consistently averaged nearly 11 students over the last five years. This year, 19 students have majors and 13 have minors in the AAADS department.

“But if anything, we’d like their undergrad majors to go up,” Van Kooten said.

This desire is shared in the department.

AAADS department chair Carolyn Calloway-Thomas said the department would like to increase this number of students majoring and minoring to over 100 within the next year with the work of new recruitment projects.

Calloway-Thomas said Van Kooten has been very supportive of the AAADS department and its goals of increasing academic opportunities for students. 

The department has also received outside financial support. For example, the department recently received a $100,000 donation from Indianapolis real estate developers Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns for the Blackness and Jewish Project, a partnership between the AAADS department and the Borns Jewish Studies Program. 

Last year, the department hired a new faculty member who will be soon be accompanied by the new hires, which addresses the department's primary need for more faculty, Calloway-Thomas said.

Calloway-Thomas said the department received a positive review from a 2020 external review committee which reviewed the department’s internal structure, financial situation and performance. The department has a number of recent achievements and events, such as the limited‐run documentary series “AAAMC Speaks” hosted by Tyron Cooper, which can be seen in the department’s March 2021 newsletter.

Student perspectives

While the university is still in the process of addressing specific department goals, students have raised concerns about class availability and faculty numbers.

IU senior and AAADS major Eliza Craig said she has had difficulties navigating the department. 

“I remember feeling very pressed as a major finding courses that aligned with what I wanted to be an expert in,” she said. 

Craig said she has struggled to find more electives in Black history and art outside of core required major classes. She said she often finds desired courses in other departments such as history and art history. Craig said her and some of her peers hope for an increase in class availability in AAADS.

Craig said she is worried about the department’s faculty members and the high number of faculty co-listed in other departments. 

“How spread thin these people are with so many responsibilities, being like a token for the university, it gets really concerning,” Craig said. 

Ideally, the new hires will help ease students' concerns. However, if concerns arise, students will be instrumental in addressing these issues, which is only more important in today’s world, said Kevin D. Brown, a Maurer law school professor who’s closely studied the intersection of race, education and law.

Kevin D. Brown, Richard S. Melvin Professor of Law at the Maurer School of Law , stands in his home office Wednesday. He is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and took classes in the department when he was a student at IU. Katharine Khamhaengwong

Brown said Black studies departments across the nation have struggled with marginalization, he said. 

Brown said many departments are poorly recognized for their incredible impact, and their professors are underpaid for the work they do.

Despite historical and current marginalization, Black studies departments are critically important to academia, Brown said. 

“Our schools have been basically getting significantly more segregated since, really, the late 80s,” Brown said. “I would say, given America’s history, their role really has become more important because of, in some sense, the rise and fall of school desegregation.”

Brown and Grim said students and alumni are integral to ensuring the AAADS department is protected and thrives.

“The voices that move universities more than any are the students,” Brown said. “You know, Black studies departments were created by student protest. If Black studies are marginalized, the most effective way to prevent it is student protest.” 

What students and alumni can do

Students can continue to support the AAADS department by performing well academically, taking classes and being vocal about what they believe to be the department’s needs, Grim said.

Grim also said AAADS students should seek faculty mentoring and encourage non-Black students to learn about Black experiences and history through classes. 

There is a need for more student recruitment outreach, Grim said. She emphasized that you need a strong marketing machine behind you, an area the department struggles in, especially with social media. 

Grim said alumni are important in department outreach efforts. 

“We need our alumni to support us, to be talking about us in the community where they live, to help us when we are trying to fundraise,” Grim said.

The AAADS department is working to support its students and faculty, uplift their achievements and expand their opportunities. Having support from students, alumni and the administration is important to the continued success of AAADS.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect the timeline for College of Arts and Sciences graduate students’ stipend increase.

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