African-American Studies to Become a Department


Saint Louis University

SLU African-American Studies Faculty

A longtime in the making, African-American Studies is finally becoming a department at Saint Louis University, and is set to get full department status by the fall 2021 semester. 

Many in the SLU community have waited for African-American studies to become fully departmentalized, and it was a prominent goal of both the Clock Tower Accords and the more recent list of demands from the Breonna Taylor Memorial incident last fall. 

In the 1970’s, SLU began offering their first African-American Studies classes, pioneered by Barbara Woods, Ph.D., who directed the SLU African-American Studies Program. Woods was known as one of the architects of Black studies throughout universities across the nation. As the African-American studies program solidified, SLU created a certificate and a contract major, where students put together classes that would be viable for an African-American Studies degree and had it signed off by a professor. In the 1990’s, SLU’s African-American Studies became a formally instituted program under the leadership of Karla Scott, Ph.D., and was granted the ability to graduate traditional B.A. majors through the program in 2010. 

In recent days, Christopher Tinson, Ph.D., the current director of African-American studies and other members teaching within the program have taken part in faculty meetings and conversations to make the African-American studies program a full department. However, the road to becoming a department has not been smooth or quick. As movements for Black empowerment have gathered momentum, so too has the push for the departmentalization of the African American studies program.

 One obstacle that stood in their way was repeated questioning of the necessity of the program. Tinson responded, “We’ve been making the case over 40 years for why this is a viable area of study.” 

With departmentalization comes a more official footing within the university. Tinson elaborated on the benefits of departmentalization, saying: “It gives us more visibility and viability. And also, most importantly, it allows us to hire and tenure our own faculty who have lines in African American Studies.” The program is currently in the process of interviewing candidates for a joint position within African-American studies and the School of Education, as well as for community-based endeavors. 

“It’s definitely exciting,” said Clarke Taylor, senior and student worker within the African-American studies program. 

“Education and African descendants go hand in hand, and we always want to make sure people understand that [and] appreciate that. We’re here to celebrate that, as well as produce new people who can carry on that tradition. So that’s what we’re here for,” added Tinson.