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Robin D. Muhammad, Chair and Associate professor of the African American studies program at Ohio University poses for a portrait.

How the Department of African-American Studies plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary

The Ohio University Department of African-American Studies, established in 1969, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

The program is one of few in Ohio and focuses on academic excellence and social responsibility in teaching, service and research. The goal of the department is to produce global citizens who are able to recognize problems in modern society, according to its website. Alumni of the program continue to do work in various fields after graduating, including law and LGBT youth advocacy. 

Robin Muhammad, the department chair and associate professor of African-American studies, has been employed at OU since 2005. For the 50th anniversary, she wants the department to continue to do “what it has always done.” She wants to hold film screenings, hold panel discussions and give scholarships.

“The difference will be that we will be marking our 50th year anniversary,” Muhammad said. 

She also wants to emphasize partnerships with local organizations and other departments and to continue them. One of those partnerships, with the OU Multicultural Center and other units, provided for a free screening of BlacKkKlansman on Aug. 31.

Muhammad believes everyone needs to take courses in African-American studies, regardless of their race, because it provides an interdisciplinary approach.

She also highlighted the tradition of remaining relevant to a larger group of people in the Department of African-American Studies. The department remains committed to the question of how it can help the communities in which people live.

The department engages people outside of OU in historic preservation, panel discussions and service projects, which provide platforms for students to interact with Athens residents.

“One of the goals of African-American studies is to address a certain level of invisibility,” she said.

Muhammad said she always knew the African-American studies department was going to have its 50th anniversary when she celebrated the 40th anniversary.

“There was no question,” she said. “There was no question in my mind that we were going to make it to 50 and beyond.”

Muhammad does her best to continuously make African-American studies more accessible. The department keeps an updated curriculum and tries to keep it innovative and interesting. It also, however, keeps it centered around the black experience.

“We maintain that integrity,” she said. “The people who might be curious or might want to challenge themselves will have an excellent resource to fill those gaps of knowledge.”

Lauren Wise, a sophomore in the pre-veterinary program, took a course in the Department of African-American Studies for her humanities credit. She took a class with Akil Houston and liked it because the class looked at the similarities and differences between popular music now and in the past. Wise enjoyed the class because she got a chance to examine and analyze different forms of media in a new way. 

“Out of all the options, it seemed like it would be the most interesting one to take,” she said. 

She is also excited about the Department of African-American Studies celebrating its 50th anniversary. She thinks it shows that other people, besides people of color, are interested in learning about the subject matter.

“There is always room for understanding among everyone,” Wise said.

Betty Miller, a sophomore studying political science pre-law with a minor in African-American studies, finds the classes in the program interesting. She likes to read the books for the syllabus and has also learned some new things, such as the differences in labor and language regarding slavery in the northern and southern parts of America. 

Miller explained she learned more about African-American history in college rather than school because most of the time, high school does not really talk about racial issues. Miller believes society has achieved a lot over the course of history in terms of equality and inclusiveness.

“But we still have a lot more to do,” Miller said. “We’re going in the right direction.”


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