Black studies - American EducationA university-level curriculum of African and African-American history, art. literature, sociology, psychology and languages. Born of the black protest movement that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968, black studies programs emerged after black students at predominantly white college campuses across America staged strikes that all but paralyzed school activities. Among their demands were that colleges increase efforts to recruit and enroll black students, offer more scholarships to black students, and begin expanding their curricula to demonstrate the role of blacks in American and world history. Because of its novelty—and the passions generated by the civil rights struggle of the 1960s—black studies drew thousands of nonblacks as well as blacks.
Taught, in many cases, by black activists, the programs on many campuses were grounded in politics as much as academic methodology, and as affirmative action programs increased the number of blacks on formerly all-white campuses, the novelty of black studies began to wear thin, along with the interest of many, if not most, black as well as white students. Although 450 colleges continued to offer programs in black studies in the academic year 2005, the number of courses offered had diminished substantially, and the number of full-time professors in African-American studies had dropped by 40% or more at many campuses. Across the nation, only 668 undergraduates earned bachelor’s degrees in black studies in 2002, according to the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.
Aside from the oppressive and often obsolete political content of many black studies courses, other factors have eroded much of the interest. For one thing, other departments have incorporated much of the black studies curriculum. English, music and art departments are careful to include works by blacks in survey courses, and history departments are equally careful to delineate the role of blacks in the history of the United States and the Western world. Even women’s studies departments devote courses to African-American women’s art, literature, history, sociology and psychology. Other departments, in other words, have left the black studies department with little to teach that is original. Dimming the future of black studies still more is the growing perception by students—black and white—that far more careers await college graduates who major in business administration or the professions than those who major in black studies.