In the aftermath of a student protests from the spring of 1999, the university this year has reinstated the Frederick Douglass Institute, UR?s center for African and African-American studies.
Founded in 1986 by Professor of Religion Karen Fields, the institute intended to promote the development of African and African-American studies through research.
Its formation followed a 1985 protest by black students who wanted to increase minority student enrollment and faculty hiring as well as better race relations.
The program, which has been closed for two years, began declining when Fields resigned in 1994.
Contrary to popular belief, the institute?s decline was not a result of the implementation of the Renaissance Plan, said Assistant Professor of History Larry Hudson, the institute?s new director.
?Our charge now is to re-establish the institute and makes as productive as it was three to four years ago,? Hudson said.
The re-opening is a result of several decisions.
In December 1998, Dean of Faculty Thomas LeBlanc created a dean?s advisory committee, composed of four professors. Its purpose was to ?look at the resources on campus that would facilitate the implementation of a major and minor in African and African American studies,? said committee chair Hudson.
Then in February 1999, about 200 UR students staged a sit-in at President Thomas Jackson?s office in Wallis Hall. One of the items on the agenda was the reopening of the Frederick Douglass Institute.
Junior and Black Students? Union President La Fleur Stephens, a protestor, contended that UR?s diversity would not have progressed as quickly without the student protest. ?The plans were probably in progress, but if we had left it up to them, these changes probably wouldn?t have occurred until after my graduation,? Stephens said.
The institute?s primary goal this year is to establish a major and a minor in African and African-American Studies, he said. Some classes in the subject have always been offered, but many new courses will be courses will be available.
The institute will be bringing monthly speakers to campus to discuss topics relevant to African and African-American studies, Hudson said. It will encourage undergraduate research by offering a prize of $500 to the best research project. Financial assistance will be available to conduct research and attend conferences.
To create the major, the institute aims to encourage departments to offer classes that can be cross-listed as AAAS courses. Its role is to facilitate the hiring of professors who can offer these courses. Last year, for example, the political science department hired a professor who specializes in African and African-American issues. The anthropology department is searching for a similar professor, Hudson said.
?It is truly a cooperative effort between the administration, various departments and the Frederick Douglass Institute,? Hudson said. The administration is ?more committed than it?s ever been to diversify the curriculum.?
Students said the institute?s reopening is important for all students, not just blacks.
?It is an outrage that students at this university can enter this institution and graduate just as ignorant of others? cultures and ideas,? Stephens said.
Freshman Richard Elliott said that although he will most likely not be taking classes through the institute, the opportunity should still be present. ?Representing all of the minorities is important,? Elliott said.
Hudson said students pursuing an AAAS major or minor will be able to count on a rigorous course of study. Hudson said they will also be able to count on high-quality advising, because it is an interdisciplinary major. ?We want students to understand that the Frederick Douglass Institute is student-friendly,? he said.
Hudson also expressed hopes that by this time next year, the AAAS major will be a mainstream major in which students could register for core courses and electives as they would for any other concentration.
A more long-term goal is to broaden the definition of ?African American? to all areas where there is an African presence ? Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe. ?We?d like to embrace them and bring them into the study of Africa,? Hudson explained.
Junior Malik Evans, a participant in the protest, said that his main concern is involving more minority students on campus and offering more courses that pertain to Africa and the African-American experience.
?This is still a long way to go, but a good first step. It?s the university saying that they recognize African-American history as a part of history,? Evans said.
Stephens sees the institute as a possible stepping stone for the implementation of other minority majors, such as a Latin American studies or Asian studies major.
The institute?s ?re-launching? will be held Sept. 28 at the Meliora from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The institute will occupy 302 Morey Hall, the space it previously held. LeBlanc said there will be ?no changes? ? the same number of faculty will be involved and the institute?s budget was never eliminated.