Common history bringing races together

Sara Welch

Pan-African studies courses draw more diverse crowd as interest in multiculturalism grows

The students filing into the classrooms in Oscar Ritchie Hall are becoming more diverse – stemming from an interest in society’s experience instead of individual experiences.

Traci Williams, instructor of Pan-African studies, said there are more white, Latino and Indian students than black students filling the seats in her classes.

“Who wants to be surrounded by the same people all the time?” said Ta’Lissa Peoples, junior exercise specialist major, who took cultural expressions I and II, a course offered in Pan-African studies. “Different people bring different things to the table.”

The multi-cultured environment has enhanced the learning experience for students as well as professors, Traci said.

“With better understanding we can work together, live together and love each other,” said Chris Williams, associate professor of Pan-African studies.

He said the goal of higher education is not to learn about yourself, but to learn about others and their cultures. Misunderstanding each other causes fear, and out of fear, people create stereotypes.

Chris said learning to meet someone with respect, regardless of ethnicity, improves society. Respect develops out of understanding for another person, getting to know that person and spending time with him or her.

“The black experience is the white experience; it’s everyone’s experience,” Chris said.

Chris said he believes everyone shares a common history although he or she may fill a different role. For example, he said slavery in the United States is part of both the black and white experience because Americans descend from slaves and slaveholders.

Traci said a better understanding and tolerance for one another has developed among the students in the classrooms at Oscar Ritchie Hall.

Making American history a cultural experience and getting everyone involved promotes progress for future generations , Chris said.

“We’ve been there together,” he said. “Now we can move forward.”

The increased diversity among students taking courses in the Pan-African studies department enhances the classroom experience. Students are able to develop respect for one another, as well as put tired stereotypes to rest, Traci said.

“Nothing can touch the love, respect and understanding we have for each other,” Chris said.

More diversity in the classroom does not necessarily mean a social change, but it’s a step in the right direction, Chris said.

“The day there is an all-black black experience class, I will pack my bags and retire,” he said.

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Sara Welch at [email protected].