February 29, 2024
During a 2023 launch ceremony, Kayla Tingley (left) and Myciah Brown (right) were celebrated for their advocacy of an Africana Studies program on campus. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

While Black History Month is coming to a close, ongoing reflection and academic pursuits are happening daily on Catholic’s campus all year thanks to the tenacity of students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

An Africana Studies program launched this academic year, intending to foster excellence in research and teaching by examining the experiences and contributions of African peoples throughout the Diaspora through their lens, with specific commitments to community engagement, activism, and safeguarding African heritage across the globe.

Africana Studies offers an opportunity for students to have access to interdisciplinary content from culturally diverse perspectives which would further their abilities to question assumptions, deepen thinking, lead courageously, and serve empathetically. 

“The Catholic University of America has a global reach -- it is part of the universal Church,” said Thomas W. Smith, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, which is home to the blossoming program. “We hold that every human life is sacred and that every person and every culture is a lived response to God’s call. It will provide an important place of learning and reflection for all our students, particularly our students of color.”

Smith said there is a real need for this program in history.

“It will provide a focus for research and teaching about Africa (where the Catholic Church is growing fastest), as well as the cultures and achievements of the African diaspora,” he said.

Ernest Suarez, Chair of the English department, speaks at a January Africana Studies Colloquium in Curley Hall. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

The program officially launched in the fall of 2023 with a ceremony featuring community and campus partners. It culminated years of efforts by University students, such as the then-president of the Black Student Alliance, Myciah Brown, and the Student Government Association to make the program a reality. Brown received a bachelor’s degree in Education Studies and Psychology in 2022 and is a communications coordinator for the University’s Center for Academic and Career Success.

“Our efforts in advocating for and eventually implementing the Africana Studies minor pave the way for future generations to continue building upon this foundation,” Brown said. “I believe in the phrase ‘many hands make light work,’ and truly it would not have been accomplished without every person every step of the way.”

Program Director Rona Frederick, though, said that Brown and her fellow students passionate about starting the program were and are trailblazers.

“I think the idea that it did materialize is a testament to the power of the students and the students wanting this to happen,” said Frederick.

Grace Reed, a sophomore Psychology Major and Africana Studies minor said she was aware of the history leading to the program’s genesis and it motivated her to participate.

“I want to work in the Psych field serving POC (people of color) and want to be educated to do so,” Reed said. “Another strong motivator is learning how hard the black students who came before me fought for the opportunity for this minor. It would behoove me to not let their hard work go to waste.”

Frederick sees the University’s ability to analyze its academic offerings and add to its programs as a step in the right direction.

“It is diversifying the curriculum, making sure there is representation of that community and it’s done with a sense of belonging,” Frederick said. “The students can see a curriculum that mirrors who they are in their realities and their experiences and their history.”

Senior Kayla Tingley, a Sociology major, was one of the students who joined Brown to advocate for the program’s creation. To take these classes is a realization of a dream for many.

“Black students deserve more,” Tingley said. “Africana Studies is more. It creates an academic space where Black students can learn their history, share thoughts, and engage in discussion finally related to their lived experiences.”

Brown foresees long-ranging and positive impacts of the Africana program.

“Moving forward, I envision the Africana Studies program expanding and evolving within the sociology department at CatholicU,” Brown said. “I hope to see increased course offerings, opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, and the development of research initiatives that further contribute to our understanding of Africana Studies and its intersections with various fields.”