‘We are connected’: Pitt plans new Africana Studies Ph.D. program


TPN File Photo

Posvar Hall, which houses the Department of Africana Studies.

By Khushi Rai, Staff Writer

Pitt will introduce a new Africana Studies Ph.D. program this fall, as associate professor Robin Brooks said Black studies are becoming a larger part of the national conversation. 

“It is very controversial when it comes to Black studies,” Brooks, an associate professor in the Africana Studies department, said. “It’s part of a national conversation right now. The debates about the AP program in African American studies for high school students — that’s a big debate going on as we speak in national papers. The fact that our state is saying, ‘Not only do we agree with the study of Africana studies, but we want to create graduate programs to work,’ says a lot.”

The Department of Africana Studies is accepting its first cohort of applicants for its new Ph.D. program, which is set to start this fall. The program allows its candidates to follow three concentrations — Race and Equity, Migration and Community Transformation, and Culture and Creative Production.

It’s the first graduate-level program in the Africana Studies department, according to Brooks, who said the process to create the new graduate program started a couple of years ago. Brooks said the first cohort of students, which will enroll in the fall, will be on the smaller side.

“For this very cohort, we are limiting it to under five people because it is a fully funded program,” Brooks said. “We are funding the entire Ph.D., which is a five-year program, and so we want to make sure that we have the funds to do that.”

Brooks said candidates in the department will have the opportunity to conduct more advanced research in the field. She said the program offers the opportunity to create knowledge in this integral field. 

“Their research needs to be aligned with the expertise of the faculty members that we do have here,” Brooks said. “That is essentially key. Of course, we want students who are innovative, creative and taking things to the next level — but if you are trying to do something that nobody here actually does, then this probably wouldn’t be a great fit for you. That’s a key part of the criteria that the students align with.”

According to Brooks, Pennsylvania is one of the leading states in the number of Ph.D. programs in Africana Studies. She said the new program is helping the entire state lead nationwide in terms of graduate programs in Africana Studies.

Felix Germain, Africana Studies department chair and associate professor, said the program will offer students a different perspective on learning. He said the discipline is rapidly evolving and Pitt will be involved in the change.

“We anticipate that the training we’re [giving] to the graduate students will allow them to be strong competitors in the academic job market but also the professional world, such as NGOs or government jobs,” Germain said. “We are going to be very successful because we have unique faculty members, and the university also has other great programs that our students can benefit from.”

Germain said lots of time and effort went into creating the program. He said the University encouraged the department to develop the program and provided support during the entire process. 

Paris Yamamoto, a graduate administrator for the department, said there is no model to follow in creating this program because there has not been a new Ph.D. program introduced in any department in many years.

“I would say it’s a little messy, but it’s going along,” Yamamoto said. “There’s also a lot of stuff you can’t really do in terms of preparation until you actually get students, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You could have an entire thing and then throw it all away because you’re like, ‘This is not working.’”

Brooks said it is integral for students to have the opportunity to study Africana Studies because the world has become increasingly connected. 

“I can contact someone in another nation at the drop of a dime, essentially,” Brooke said. “I think that it’s a benefit for all people, no matter your racial or ethnic background, to have Africana Studies as a part of our higher education system because we want to know more about other cultures and other backgrounds. We are connected, whether we like it or not, and it will behoove us to look at the benefits of being connected to one another.”