On Wednesday, Prairie View A&M University announced a new bachelor’s degree in African American Studies.
According to the university, the program is set to launch this fall through a $1 million initiative called Enhancing the Humanities at PVAMU. Its creation also fulfills a long-held vision of President Ruth J. Simmons as she made it a priority to establish an AAS program at PVAMU.
In a press release, the university states that “the new Bachelor of Arts in AAS Program will prepare the emerging generation of leaders to communicate effectively, think critically, research and examine any field of work through a comprehensive cultural lens.” The new program is funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an anonymous contribution, and a matching grant.
“A part of the HBCU experience for many students is a journey to self-identification, Blackness, and trying to understand the Black experience better,” said Jeanelle Hope, Program Director and Associate Professor of African American Studies. “It [African American Studies] provides students with the language to understand the world around them and an opportunity to engage key theories, concepts and methods that seek to make sense of the Black experience and amplify our narratives.”
Establishing this program is a huge accomplishment for PVAMU, as many HBCUs don’t have an AAS program.
According to the university, in 2020, over 1,200 graduates earned a degree in African American and Black studies, with the top producing universities being Yale, the University of Florida, and the University of California-Los Angeles. Only a handful of HBCUs have AAS programs, including Morehouse College and Howard, Florida A&M, Morgan State, and Claflin Universities, to name a few.
Sophomore biology major Jalen Elrod attended a majority white high school and was shocked to discover that PVAMU didn’t have an AAS program when she first enrolled. “It’s significant that Black students learn about our history at our HBCUs because it’s often bent and changed to fit other narratives in today’s social climate,” she said.
Dr. Hope expects the program to attract students interested in culture, history, and social justice but believes every student could benefit from taking an AAS course.
“African American studies differs from other disciplines because it’s about our lived experience, so it feels familiar. But there’s a lot that students don’t know about the Black experience across the diaspora, history, space, and time,” said Hope.
To learn more information about PVAMU’s African American Studies Program, visit www.pvamu.edu/bcas/departments/swbps/programs/aastudies.