Department of Pan-African Studies becomes Department of Africana Studies

Nicole Lew Reporter

The Department of Pan-African Studies will be renamed to the Department of Africana Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences beginning fall 2021.

The new name reflects the current vocabulary used as well as trends in the field of African Studies. It also reflects peer institutions such as the University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University and the University of Notre Dame, according to a university press release distributed June 23.

The renaming of the department is a form of rebranding in hopes to expand its enrollment of prospective students and highlights all the department has to offer, including the history and cultural, said Felix Kumah-Abiwu, an associate professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies with a Ph.D. in political science.

Although the department will operate under the new name effective fall 2021, Kumah-Abiwu said the curriculum will remain the same. 

“The material being taught in the department of Africana Studies captures the history, culture and experiences of those on the continent of Africa but it also captures the experiences of African Americans and Africans in the Caribbeans,” he said. “The only difference is the name.”

“Over time we noticed that the Department of Africana Studies has been very common in the last couple of years in various institutions across the United States.”

The name change took years of deliberation, which Kuman-Abiwu said was “not easy but everything was not rushed and it was given serious thought.” 

Faculty in the Department of Pan-African studies wanted the new name to reflect not only the curriculum taught in the department, but also the history the department held since its inception in 1976.

“Africana Studies represents the multi-disciplinary focus we bring to the study of the ways of life of the global community of Africans and peoples of African descent,” said Mwatabu Okantah, interim chair for the Department of Pan-African Studies. “Our new name reflects both the history, as well as the forward direction of what began as the discipline of Black studies.”

What is known today as the Department of Pan-African Studies could not have existed without the formation of Black United Students in the spring semester of 1968.

Although Kent State had only around 600 students enrolled that identified as African American or Black in 1968, according to an article from BG News, enough students were able to unify and amplify their voices. 

In 1968, members of BUS organized pivotal protests on Kent’s campus, including a sit-in in protest of Oakland Police Department recruitment on campus, and the 250-student walk-out when their request for amnesty from disorderly conduct charges was denied. 

BUS was the driving force behind the establishment of the Institute for African American Affairs in 1969. The IAAA was founded by late emeritus professor Edward Crosby with the goal of providing support for development of research, offering scholarship opportunities and facilitating connections between Black students and the Northeast Ohio community.

“Student’s demanded a need for a place where they can study their own history and culture,”  Kumah-Abiwu said. “[The] IAAA was established in 1969 to meet the demands of many Black students.” 

The Center of Pan-African Culture was created in 1970 to promote the cultural traditions of African people as well as the descendants living around the world and following that the Department of Pan-African Studies was established in 1976.

“Students have inspired and supported us in the continuing development of our African-centered discipline and holistic pedagogy,” Crosby said in an article published to the department’s website. “The department informs students of their need to address the development of themselves, their institutions and their communities. The time they spend at Kent is preparatory to meeting this social responsibility.” 

Okantah was an undergraduate student in the IAAA in the 1970s, and a graduate assistant when the IAAA became the Department of Pan-African Studies in 1976. Now, as Interim chair, Okantah said he is in a position to help lead the department into a new era.

“I represent the past as well as the present,” Okantah said. “I see myself in the role of guiding the program through our transition into the future.” 

Nicole Lew is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].