For Deon Bennett, Michigan State University’s new Black Studies program is more than just a major.

“It felt like home,” the senior said of the new African and African American Studies (AAAS) degree program, launched by MSU in February.

The architects of the new program, all of whom are women, designed the major as a way for students to evoke societal change. More than 40 fellows have already registered.

AAAS Department Chair Ruth Brown said staff created the program, which focuses on gender and sexuality through the mindset of societal change. She expects course offerings to change as students and faculty provide feedback.

Brown said she expects the first full cohort of students to graduate in 2025. Each student must take 36 credits in the department to be eligible for graduation.

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Associate Professor LeConté Dill said she hopes graduates leave with a higher level of awareness, not only around the history of race, culture, gender and sexuality, but also its possibilities. contemporary and future.

She and Brown envision that graduates will use their AAAS degree to push for societal action.

“I think students will be equipped to take on a wide range of careers, from the nonprofit sector and community organization to government work and academia,” Dill said. “Many of our minors and majors are excited to even think about pursuing higher education.”

Members of the Michigan State Athletic Department gathered at the Rock on Campus in 2020.

The AAAS undergraduate curriculum focuses on three pillars of blackness: feminism, gender, and sexualities, Brown said. According to the department’s website, course offerings include Black Girl Studies, Afrofuturism, Pedagogies of Protest, and Creative Expression as Craft.

“We understand blackness as expansive, we understand categories of identity as fluid, and we teach, we appreciate as teachers and truly as students, acting on behalf of a commitment to greater justice,” said Brown said.

The first full cohort will graduate in 2025, she said.

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The AAAS major began as a specialization within MSU in 2000. In 2015, university leaders upgraded the program to a minor. Since then, 45 students have graduated with the minor, according to MSU spokesman Dan Olsen.

A multimedia work by Zerihun Yetmgeta titled 'Wax and Gold' is displayed in the gallery during a preview of the MSU Broad Art Lab on Monday, May 14, 2018 in East Lansing.

Bennett, also a board member of MSU’s Black Student Alliance, is slated to graduate next month with a communications degree, but has enrolled in several AAAS courses out of interest. In some of those classes, he noticed that non-black students took a genuine interest in the program.

“It’s great to see the alliance, and it’s great to see that people will want to learn about different things like black feminism, black Christianity, black struggles, black mental health and things like that. nature,” Bennett said.

The licensing program was launched in February. The department’s academic specialist, Yvonne Morris, said it puts the black experience at the forefront of education in a predominantly white institution.

“I hope that within a major we can also, as we co-build with students, we can give them opportunities that don’t yet exist in other (departments),” he said. she declared.

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Contact journalist Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.