African American Studies

By Jeanette R. Davidson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Town and Gown: Reaffirming
Social Responsibility in Africana
Studies

Charles E. Jones and Nafeesa Muhammad

Georgia State University

Since the formal establishment of Africana Studies at San Francisco State College in 1968, scholars have grappled with the essential features of the once academic interloper. As a discipline born of the twin principles of academic inclusion and community outreach, its very origins were wrought in controversy. Heated debates ensued over its legitimacy, subject matter, structure, personnel, and intended audience. Conflict continued over its geographical domain, inclusion of gender, and its relationship to the broader black community. During the past four decades, scholars advanced the discipline of Africana Studies by addressing many of these salient issues. New theoretical formulations, paradigmatic construction, and innovative research, among other developments, contributed to the maturation of the discipline. Two examples include Afrocentricity’s theoretical refinement of the “Black perspective” and groundbreaking research enhancing our understanding of the richness and complexities of women of African descent. As Robert Harris, historian and early advocate of Black Studies, proclaimed, “Africana Studies has achieved legitimacy and has become institutionalized within higher education.”1 This newfound stature is perhaps best underscored by the presence of Black Studies doctoral graduate programs in institutions of higher learning where most administrators and faculty once vigorously opposed its entrée to the academy.

While the discipline currently enjoys unprecedented standing in academe, particularly when compared to the once pariah status of its formative period (1968–72), we argue that the second principle—community outreach—suffers from uneven attention in the advancement of the discipline. At its onset, Black Studies was an enterprise committed to the

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