40 Years of Black Studies

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Portland State University’s Black Studies department and Black Studies in the U.S., which was established in 1969 towards the end of the civil rights movement.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Portland State University’s Black Studies department and Black Studies in the U.S., which was established in 1969 towards the end of the civil rights movement.

   The object of Black Studies at PSU is to “facilitate the systematic and scientific study of the history of origins, development, nature and culture of people of Africa and the African Diaspora as a means of reconstructing and explaining the formation and transformations in their experiences,” according to the department’s Web site.

   “In the last forty years, the Black Studies Department at PSU has served as a forum between the university, faculty and students of different disciplines, especially those who share interest in the study of the black experience,” said Dr. E. Kofi Agorsah, the department chair and professor of Black Studies who has a Ph.D. in archaeology from the University of California at Los Angeles and an master’s degree in African archaeology from the University of Ghana in Legon.

   According to Agorsah, one of the main endeavors of Black Studies is “to reconstruct and explain the formation and transformations in experiences, often characterized as the ‘black experience’, as they relate to World Histories and Cultures.”
  “As we objectively explore the black experience…we can provide an alternative to traditional interpretations and approaches to the study of world history that have bypassed the African experience in Africa and the African Diaspora,” Agorsah said.
  According to Agorsah, PSU’s Black Studies department hopes to “expose students from all cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds to academic experiences beyond those generally found in traditional college curricula.”
  Currently, the Black Studies department has 11 faculty members, three of whom are full-time professors, as well as four affiliated faculty members.
  One such affiliated faculty member is Dr. Veronica Dujon, a professor and department chair of the sociology department at PSU.
  Last year Dujon coauthored Understanding the Social Dimension of Sustainability, a book that seeks to define “social sustainability” and explores the factors that can prevent or encourage social sustainability such as access to fresh and local foods.

   Another professor of Black Studies, Dr. Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate, splits his time between Portland State’s Black Studies department and the University Studies department. Ferbel-Azcarate has a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary archaeological studies from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

   In addition to teaching, Ferbel-Azcarate has “led workshops on building with earth masonry (or cob), community design and urban agriculture,” according to the PSU Web site.

   With funding from the National Science Foundation and in conjunction with partners in Ghana, Agorsah said his next research project will be to “undertake an archaeological investigation of the cultural formation and transformation of the historic Kormantse settlement on the Gold Coast, and to examine its response to changes occurring through colonization.”
 According to Agorsah, one of the goals of PSU’s Black Studies department is to “provide the university and the broader community with cultural activities to stimulate and enlighten the intellectual atmosphere as a means of contributing to greater understanding and cooperation between ‘races.'”

   In an effort to achieve this goal, Black Studies hosts a number of events each year such as its Black Bag Speaker Series.
 The department last hosted a Black Bag called Race and Environmental Justice in Oregon with speakers from the Multnomah County Department of Health, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Equality and Robin Collin, director of the certificate program in sustainability law at Willamette University.
  Another goal of Black Studies is “to promote national and international activities in support of PSU’s vision of internationalization,” Agorsah said.

   In keeping with that goal, Black Studies has designed its own capstone, the African Overseas Capstone, which takes place in Ghana and other regions of Africa. Interested students can download an application at pdx.edu/blackstudies/african-overseas-capstone.

   Looking forward, Agorsah said, “We continue to have [a] clear vision, as the only Black Studies of its kind in the nation that addresses issues of African, African-American and Caribbean history and culture on an equal basis.”

   According to Agorsah, Black Studies hopes to introduce new themes into old courses, as well as entirely new courses concerning diversity and race relations like “history of important personalities, events, themes, theories, media, artistic traditions etc. in Black Studies.”

   In addition to the proposed expansion of courses and themes, Black Studies hopes to add a master’s program by 2012, Agorsah said.