African studies minor nears its end
"There's no smoking gun," Director of African Studies Jim Webb said on the decision to eliminate the African Studies minor from the Colby curriculum. "It's just a decision that we had to come to."
The decision came this winter from the faculty who oversee the program because, as Webb put it, the minor had become "more of a collection of courses. There was no real progression through the minor."
The African Studies minor was originally created in the 90s and saw its heyday when working in tandem with the Colby, Bates and Bowdoin (CBB)?sponsored study-abroad program at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Students had the opportunity to study in South Africa for a semester while earning credit for their minor both from Colby faculty members and University of Cape Town professors.
The grant money that started the CBB Cape Town program eventually ran out and was never renewed however, so the program closed. Since then, Colby has not hired a faculty member dedicated full-time to the African Studies program and the minor has become a sampling of different courses from across the Colby curriculum in departments ranging from History and Anthropology to Music and Education.
"Colby prides itself on its international curriculum," Professor of Anthropology Catherine Besteman said. "We can't claim that if we don't have a representation of African Studies in our curriculum."
"It's a philosophical choice," Webb said. "I think it's just an acknowledgement of the resources at the College." While the College cannot at this time offer what anyone believes is an adequate African Studies minor, it will continue to offer a few courses on Africa.
Webb also pointed out that within the International Studies (IS) program there is an opportunity for students to earn a regional concentration in Africa.
"We can either have a proliferation of a lot of small programs, or have larger programs like the IS program," Webb said. Besteman pointed out, however, that the IS concentration in Africa is only possible when there are enough courses on Africa offered.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies Cheryl Gilkes, whose African-American Studies program shared a reciprocal agreement with the African Studies department, considers the program's demise a "big setback." There is a "piece missing now...it's like the biggest continent on the globe. Hello!" she said, pointing out that Colby has majors focused on the study of every other majorly populated continent on the planet.
Gilkes classified an understanding of African history and culture among Americans as "vitally important" and warned that "our ignorance has the potential to kill us." She cited the Yemeni Christmas bomber as an example of when "a lack of understanding of Africa came to smack us in the face...Whoever was at the U.S. embassy when that boy's father, who had almost singlehandedly saved the country's banking system, drove up to the gates and said 'My son might be a terrorist' clearly didn't have an understanding of [Yemeni] culture."
As for the future of the study of Africa at Colby, Webb said, "We're still going to support the students [interested in Africa], we just aren't going to have the African Studies minor on the books."
"I don't think anyone's excluding the possibility that one could bring back into existence an African studies minor, but for now it seems better just to acknowledge that we don't have that strong base for a minor," Webb said.