Diverse courses dare students to think

Kyle Roerink

Pan-African studies department pushes students’ boundaries

The feeling the Pan-African studies department creates cannot be duplicated anywhere else, said Robin Wright, sophomore applied mathematics major and Pan-African studies minor.

After switching her major from architecture to applied mathematics, Wright said she was thinking about transferring to either Ohio State University, Penn State University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but she stayed at Kent State because of the way the professors in the Pan-African studies department dared her to think.

Wright said throughout her whole life she has been taught history with a Euro-centric spin on it. She said the Pan-African studies department gives her an insight into the traditional values, culture and essence of Africa. She also said that the department offers courses in Native American studies, gender and sexuality, Caribbean studies and Latin America studies.

“Just knowing who you are and having a sense of identity is typically what most people spend their whole lives searching for,” she said, “and I feel I have found myself and who I am in this department.”

In a forum discussing the relationship between Africans and African-Americans, Steve Michael, vice provost for diversity, said the purpose of the department is to fight ignorance.

The integrated atmosphere in the Pan-African studies department is a combination of fulfilling student wants and needs, said Francis Dorsey, associate professor in Pan-African studies.

“There are a lot of things that we think we do right,” he said, “but the bottom line is listening to what the students really have to say.”

After being forced by his mother to join the Academic Stars program during the summer before his freshman year at Kent State, Kareem Mitchell, a justice studies major and Pan-African studies minor, said the pre-orientation program introduced him to the Pan-African studies department as well as African rites-of-passage rituals.

Due to his participation in the Academic Stars program, he became interested in the department and said that it was the first time in his life he could truly think for himself. He compared his experience to a Biblical metaphor.

“Saul was a murderer of Christians, and at one point in time was on a horse at Damascus,” he said. “He was so smitten by the truth of Christianity he fell from the horse and embraced Christianity. I was so smitten by the truth of the whole concept of Pan-Africanism that I was truly set free … and fell off my horse.”

Mitchell said most students in the department are studying Pan-Africanism for the purpose of gaining knowledge. He said that having a degree in Pan-African studies does not guarantee a job, but he stressed that the knowledge he gained will help him no matter where life takes him.

“It is important to have a Pan-African studies department simple because it gives another perspective of historical events,” Wright said, “and it gives minority students … a chance to learn more about themselves, their history and where they came from.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].