July 31, 2006

Black American Studies program earns respect

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, IL. -- The Black American Studies program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale "has come of age."

Since 1997, the program has been under the leadership of Father Joseph A. Brown, who boasts an excellent record of achievement. When Brown arrived on the SIUC campus nine years ago, there was only one tenure-track faculty member teaching black studies. Today, all four of the program's full-time instructors are either tenured or on the tenure track. Students are also flocking to classes. In the summer of 1997, there were eight students signed up to achieve a black studies minor. Right now, there are 29 SIUC students minoring in black studies.

"This program has come of age," Brown said. "We now have a program that is intellectually respected and a faculty with high credentials. I'm as proud as I can be of this program."

First conceived in 1968, SIUC's Black American Studies program struggled with its identity over the years. However, after Father Brown took over, the program soared. Brown is credited with retaining and recruiting top-ranked faculty and increasing enrollment in black studies classes. "We have students who really want to do academic work. We are helping with the retention rate and we are showing people this is a legitimate academic discipline," he said.

Brown believes SIUC and other universities must maintain their commitment to Black American Studies.

"The study of Africa is central to understanding the development of modern Europe and the Americas. The study of African-American history and culture helps everyone, everywhere, make sense of the United States from the Declaration of Independence to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and afterwards. So the study of ‘black' history puts all the color back into the study of history in general," he said.

Despite the progress, Brown continues to push for change. He is working to develop a graduate certificate program and eventually a major.

"We should be recognized as a legitimate academic area of study and those students who wish to major in black studies should have the option. There are black studies programs at several other public universities in this state, universities that have less focus on research than SIUC. We have most of the elements in place for a major. We need to finish the project," he said.

Brown earned a bachelor's degree from St. Louis University in 1968, a master's degree from John Hopkins University in 1969, and a second master's as well as a doctorate from Yale University in 1983 and 1984, respectively.

Shaping high-quality undergraduate and graduate programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.