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Europe's first black studies degree launched

GROUNDBREAKING: Dr Kehinde Andrews who led the black studies project

THE SPEED at which proposals for the UK’s first undergraduate degree course in black studies have progressed has surprised even the academic leading it at Birmingham City University (BCU).

But Dr Kehinde Andrews, associate professor in sociology at BCU takes this as an indication that such a course is long overdue.

Andrews told The Voice: “I think it’s more controversial that we don’t yet have a high quality black studies course, rather than we do. The feedback I’ve had since announcing it last week has been overwhelmingly positive from both the older generation and students themselves. It’s long overdue.

“We’ve been talking about it for some time because we already have a Black Studies Association based at BCU. When the university revealed it was revalidating all its degree courses I stepped in and suggested a degree course.

“We already have a world-leading reputation here for research into black studies. We have six full-time black academic members of staff, which sadly is a lot more than the majority of academic departments in the UK.”

The only other UK university so far believed to offer a specific black-centric course is Goldsmiths College, the University of London, which opened its Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies 33 years ago. Last year it launched a world-first: an MA in black British writing, which has been widely welcomed by students, academics and authors.

PERSPECTIVES

BCU’s three-year course, which will take students from September 2017, intends to ‘focus attention on the experiences, perspectives and contributions of people from the African Diaspora.’ It will also give students the chance to study at various universities in America where black studies have been on the curriculum since the 1960s.

“We’re keen to embed into the course the experience of real work. Students will have placements and make work connections in the public, private and voluntary sectors,” added Andrews, who also chairs the Organisation of Black Unity.

“There is a growing pressure within the community for black history to be taught in schools and this degree course reflects that demand.”


LONG OVERDUE: The new degree course at Birmingham City University will take students from September 2017

Andrews is standing his ground about the name of the course. He told The Voice: “I know that some people think there is something negative about using the word ‘black’ but I feel it’s important to call it ‘black studies’ rather than ‘African studies.’

“We need to reconnect with the politics of blackness. We should not be ashamed of the word ‘black’.”

LEGACY

Dr Lisa Palmer, a senior lecturer in sociology at BCU, who is part of the academic team delivering the course, added: “I think it’s important that we’re building on the legacy of such people as Paul Gilroy and respected Jamaican-born academic Stuart Hall, who founded the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham during the 1960s.

“It’s no accident that Birmingham as a city is leading the way again with this degree course.”

Dr Palmer added that the work of several black feminist thinkers would be at the core of the degree. They include such names as Audre Lorde, Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks, Hazel Carby, Claudia Jones and Patricia Hill Collins.

“I just hope that in five years’ time with the course established, we’ll be able to see that the black experience in the UK has no longer been marginalised and pushed to one side. I think with future generations social media is providing a huge global space in which to raise political consciousness.”

Fellow BCU colleague Dr Martin Glynn, a criminologist with more than 25 years’ experience of working in the criminal justice system, stressed it was crucial that such a course helped to improve the ‘disconnect’ between academia and the community.

“The moment it becomes too academic it will start to die,” he told The Voice. “If our history was truly reflected, then the need for such a course would be drastically reduced. Sadly, black studies are often seen as controversial because so much of our history has been hidden, silent and absent.”

■ BCU is holding an open day on Saturday 11th June from 9am to 3pm. There will be specific black studies courses and mock lectures between 11.15-13.15 and 1.45-2.45. People can sign up at http://www.bcu.ac.uk/student-info/open-days/june

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