Professors enjoy Oscar Ritchie for community, atmosphere

Michael Lewis

Whatever paths they traveled to end up in Oscar Ritchie, professors in the English department of Pan-African studies have chosen to stay and make sacrifices for the same reason — the close-knit community they have found.

It is also the largest black cultural center for learning in the country.

“The reason this department has this atmosphere is because Oscar Ritchie and the others worked hard to create it,” said Mary-Therese Webster, a lecturer in the department. “I think there’s a lot to learn from traditional African culture, certainly a sense of community. (In Oscar Ritchie) if you have a problem, everybody just goes into action. It’s just that type of community.”

Each faculty member is part of an Afro-centric academic curriculum anchored in the knowledge of cultural norms, traditions and the experiences of the diverse groups of people on the African continent. And each of these professors is white.

Lecturer Christina McVay teaches African literature, as well as oral and written discourses in black English. She said there are always surprised expressions when students see a white professor teaching black studies.

“Blacks have made significant contributions to this country and to our own culture, and we could all learn a thing or two,” she said.

McVay said when she began teaching at Oscar Ritchie, she discussed it with another faculty member. She said his response was, “If you go, you better grade easy or they won’t keep you.” According to McVay, that stigma has been around “forever.”

Students have reported for a few years that advisers tell them the English classes in Oscar Ritchie are remedial, McVay said.

“They tell them not to take English classes over in Oscar Ritchie because they think ours are easier, that we give easy A’s,” McVay said.

Diedre Badejo, professor and chair of the Pan-African studies department, said she has heard of that stigma around campus. Badejo said the classes are not easier.

“That is not true — just ask my research methods class,” Badejo said.

The professors mentioned that they learn from their students as well as their colleagues.

McVay said she has learned “different perspectives on community and time, on the value and purpose of the arts, on the meaning of the past and tradition and the elderly, as opposed to our western obsession with progress and the future.”

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Michael Lewis at [email protected].