Department of Pan-African Studies strives for holistic education

Daisha Overstreet

Holistic education is defined as a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world and to humanitarian values.

In other words, holistic education is a concept that encourages teachers to educate students on how to execute the information they’re taught, instead of just teaching students how things are, according to Edward Crosby, retired chairperson of the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State.

This concept allows students the opportunity to gain critical knowledge and to be “enlightened,” Crosby said.

“When you come to a university, the first thing that jumps into a student’s mind is that you are here to get a job.” Crosby said. “However, something should also come with working toward a career, and that’ s enlightenment…that, they don’t give. Because if they enlighten you, you would not only think differently about being educated but you’d think about the way you’re being educated and the why.”

And that is what the Department of Pan-African Studies strives to do, he said.

“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,” Crosby wrote in a Department of Pan-African Studies third decade celebration brochure.

What sets this department apart from other academic departments is that the faculty intends to not only educate, but to build productive relationships with the students, Crosby said.

For instance, when Crosby was the chairperson, he mentioned that he and other faculty members would help students pay their rent and allow them to bring their children to class.

 “We think about the whole student,” said Outreach Program officer Cinnamon Small. “Instead of just fragmenting their experiences just in one course, we think about getting them to graduate and giving them the skill set they can use when they leave here.”

While getting her master’s, Small practiced holistic education by building a film certificate program with professor Traci Williams, based off of a course she took in the department.

“I was able to couple the experience with taking a class in this department, which the project was also in collaboration with the school Journalism and Mass Communication,” she said.

Small said she noticed the simple connections she made with faculty allowed her to apply what she’s learning to the real world.

Using the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Student Movement and even the movement that created the department, holistic education was developed because black people’s interests and needs weren’t being portrayed, Small said. 

“So what we do is take the information that students learn in their black experience class, for example, and train them to be critical about the information they are receiving in other places,” current Chairperson of the Department of Pan-African Studies, Amoaba Gooden said.

Associate Professor Mwatabu Okantah said black students must realize that they do not always have to be reactionary in order to see change. They don’t have to look at the bigger picture of the puzzle, but they should take a look at each individual piece. 

For instance, Okantah recently attended a Center for Pan African Culture meeting, but only a few students showed up.

“On one hand, we could’ve been frustrated, but on the other we decided to work with these few students,” said Okantah. “If I have the four of you, then let’s figure out what the five of us can do.”

In accordance with the concept of holistic education, Okantah said he believes everyone has a part to play. Faculty must encourage students to think critically and help them find or provide outlets to execute what’s taught in the classroom.

To learn more about the Department of Pan-African studies, visit

Contact Daisha Overstreet at [email protected]