Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Fikira (Reflections): A Comparative Retrospective of Two Graduate School Experiences: Temple University and Michigan State University

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Fikira (Reflections): A Comparative Retrospective of Two Graduate School Experiences: Temple University and Michigan State University

Article excerpt

My formal experience as a student in Black Studies spans over a twenty-year period this includes over ten years of various academic activities, and a variety of breaks, and interludes. During this time I have acquired two degrees in African American Studies a Bachelor of Arts from Wayne State University (1995) and a Masters or Arts from Temple University. The aforementioned academic pursuits led me to continue my education in African American Studies in Michigan State University's doctoral program.

Strongly influenced by the socio-political nature of the sixties, I spent the majority of my adult years involved in a plethora of community activist activities. My involvement in the community as an activist attracted me to the African American Studies Discipline. Karenga (2002) asserts

   The social struggles in the Sixties served as both
   a context and encouragement for the emergence
   of a student movement, which linked itself to
   these larger struggles for social change both on
   and off campus. The Civil Rights Movement and
   Black Power Movement are more directly related
   to the struggle for Black Studies, the Free Speech
   Movement and Anti-Vietnam War Movement on
   campus indirectly aided in the overall thrust. (pp.

It is my intention to present a comparative discussion of my experience as a graduate student in two interestingly distinct Black Studies units, the first being Temple University as a Master's student, the second as a Doctoral student in Michigan State University's African American and African Studies Program. The distinctions among these programs are best illuminated by the varying structures (form), academic approaches, ideological perspectives and curriculums.


As an institutional approach to the Black experience, African American Studies takes a variety of forms (Adams 2001, p. 103). These forms included the department model, the program model, the institute model and the center model (Little et al. 2001, p. 699). Distinct features characterize each of these forms. The characterizing features of the department include:

1) Funding is from the basic university budget

2) The college or university tenure rules cover departmental faculty

3) The unit can offer a minor or major leading to the Bachelor of Arts and above

4) It can have full-time support staff (Adams 2001, p. 104)

The second form is the program model, whose features include:

1) Programs generally have a shorter life span due to reliance on elective enrollments for their institutional survival

2) Faculty for a program may all be anchored in different traditional departments but teach a course or courses in the program.

3) Program faculty are generally tenured in their anchor department

4) Students are allowed to complete either required or elective courses while doing most of their studies in a traditional field (Adams 2001)

The above features are relevant in both African American Studies units under scrutiny in this article.

Temple University

The Temple unit was established as a Department in 1988. The department is the most durable African American Studies unit (Adams 2001, p. 104). The durability and life of Temple's department is reflective of Adams assertion that the department budget is allocated by the university's basic budget. Temple University's department is also staffed by several faculty members who were hired by the African American Studies unit and granted tenure within the parameters of that academic unit. The third of these aspects was manifest in the fact that Temple's African American Studies department offered the major and minor in African American Studies. The existence of African American Studies undergraduate degree facilitates early preparation for graduate studies and continuity within the discipline.

Michigan State University

African American Studies at Michigan State University was established as a program. …

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