Stephen Ward, professor in the University of Michigan’s Residential College, opened his portion of the “Radical Roots, Contested Place: African American and African Studies at U-M” webinar Thursday evening playing the Nina Simon song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”
The event, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the University’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, discussed the political environment of the 1960s and the events leading to the creation of the department.
In the early 1960s, the University created socially-conscious programs, including the Opportunity Awards Program. Ward said this program aimed to increase Black enrollment at the University.
“Starting in 1964, the U of M created the Opportunity Awards programs, in part because of a federal investigation into the hiring practices and requiring the University to make some efforts both in recruiting the students and more so in hiring,” Ward said.
Black University students staged multiple events during the 1960s, including occupying the administration building in 1968 for a sit-in.
“Over the course of that academic year of 1969-1970 a range of Black student organizations came together under the banner of the Black Action Movement, who issued a range of demands to call for changes at the University,” Ward said.
In 1969, BAM, which aligned with the beliefs of the Black Power Movement, issued a list of demands for the University. Philosophy lecturer Gary Krenz, who moderated the event, praised BAM’s list of demands.
“I think the document in which they presented the demands is kind of remarkable,” Krenz said. “It weaves together these different components — recruitment and support for Black students, community service, community-oriented activity and intellectual programming.”
BAM’s demands included increasing the enrollment of Black students to 10% of the student population. While some of those goals were met in 1970, the University never achieved its 10% enrollment goal.
“I think that the full commitment (to 10% enrollment) has never been there,” Ward said. “Part of that is because the University wants to maintain its elite status and has not found the will of the ways to carry out this initiative in practices in ways that equally value meeting this goal.”
The creation of DAAS was one of the larger successes of student organizations in the area, Ward said. Ward mentioned that during this period, the Civil Rights and Black Power movements were calling for an increase in Black and African studies across the country and fighting back against racist institutions.
“(Black studies programs put) into practice the principle of Black power. And (in) doing so it rejected a view of education as a neutral space and in fact saw education as having contributed to racist ideas and domination and those needed to be uprooted,” Ward said. “It instead saw education as a means of community, self-advancement and transformation.”
Students in BAM aimed to create a department which fostered community, racial pride, independence and emphasizing Black history and self-expression. LSA sophomore Grace Watson, who is minoring in African-American studies, said the department does an incredible job fostering community.
“Since declaring I have been able to meet some of the incredible professors and use some of their great resources and my appreciation for the department has only grown,” Watson said.
Daily Staff Reporter Isabella Preissle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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