Nov 29, 2020  
Course Catalog 2012-2013 
Course Catalog 2012-2013 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

African American Studies

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Meredith M. Gadsby, Associate Professor of African American Studies,Chair
Pamela Brooks, Associate Professor of African American Studies
Johnny Coleman, Professor of Art and African American Studies
Gordon Gill, Assistant Professor of African American Studies
Caroline Jackson Smith, Associate Professor of Theater and African American Studies
Ralph Jones, Faculty-in-Residence, Afrikan Heritage House
Afia A. Ofori-Mensa, Visiting Assistant Professor and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Darko Opoku, Assistant Professor of African American Studies
Booker C. Peek, Associate Professor of African American Studies
Adenike M. Sharpley, Lecturer and Artist-in-Residence, Theater and Dance and African American Studies

The African American Studies Department is a multidisciplinary program of study that seeks, through the humanities and social sciences, to explore key aspects of the Black experience in a systematic and structurally integrated fashion. Its broad educational purposes are to engender among all students an intellectual appreciation of life, culture and history in Africa, the Americas and the Diaspora; to enrich the Oberlin College curriculum; and to increase the relevance of an Oberlin education to a culturally diverse world. Thus, the Department strives to provide the general student body with substantive knowledge of the Africana experience and to provide majors with a range of critical, intellectual, artistic and evaluative skills useful in any of their future pursuits. The department is aided in its efforts by the Afrikan Heritage House, which serves as the College’s African Diasporan communal and cultural center.


The African American Studies curriculum offers extensive study of the Black experience in a diasporic setting, including but not limited to, Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. These offerings are arranged in three categories: introductory, intermediate, and advanced. All introductory courses are open without prerequisite, except as indicated in the course description. African American Studies 101 and other beginning courses may serve as prerequisites to all intermediate and advanced courses.


The requirements for the major in African American Studies are consistent with our view of the field as a multidisciplinary and area studies program. Major prerequisites are designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the African Diasporan experience, as well as a firm grounding in a single field of study. Both breadth and depth in the field are to be obtained by majors.

The major consists of a minimum of 30 hours. In consultation with their major advisor, students are expected to develop a balanced program of study and to supplement their work with courses in fields related to their special needs and interests:

  1. As the introduction to the discipline, African American Studies 101 is required of all majors and should be taken in the freshman or sophomore year.
  2. All majors are required to take at least one course in each of the three following areas: African, African American, and Caribbean Studies.
  3. All majors are required to take courses within the department that total not less than six hours (two full academic courses or the equivalent) in the humanities and six hours (two full academic courses or the equivalent) in the social science divisions of the major, as multidisciplinary training. Students must also ensure that these courses are drawn from at least three of the five core fields (Education, History, Literature, Politics, and Fine Arts), with a minimum of three credit hours (one full academic course or the equivalent) in each chosen field.
  4. An additional nine hours, including the Senior Seminar, are to be taken in a single field of specialization in one of the following areas: education, history, literature, politics, and the fine arts (art, music, theater or dance). Students are required to show a balance between introductory and advanced courses in their specialization.
  5. All majors (beginning with the class of 2013) are required to take the Intermediate Seminar in their sophomore or junior year, as well as the Senior Seminar in their junior or senior year. Majors in the Class of 2013 were made aware of the new requirements, and have already been advised to complete coursework that aligns with this revision to the major. Students in the classes of 2011 and 2012 are exempted from the new requirements, but are strongly encouraged to take AAST 350 Intermediate Seminar in preparation for AAST 450 Senior Seminar. Exceptions will be granted as needed during this transition at the discretion of the Department. 

  6. Up to six hours of credit may be gained from cross-listed or cross-referenced courses (such as ENG 261, MHST 290, 291, POLT 221, 224, RELG 284, 384, FYSP 144 and SOCI 277, 403), or from approved cognate courses.

Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C-,CR or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major.  Students and advisors track accomplishments in the major in a portfolio.


The Department’s curriculum is designed for students to achieve the following goals:

  1. To acquire research skills related to all of our core disciplinary areas, with particular attention to use of primary and secondary sources, electronic research methodologies, field work, bibliographic skills and citation practices.
  2. To acquire the skills to think and write critically, in addition to developing oral and performative skills in relation to areas of specialization.
  3. To engage in study-away, travel, mentorship, and internships in Africa and the African Diaspora that foster civic engagement and purposeful volunteerism.
  4. To appreciate and/or practice art forms as they relate to the history and cultures of Africa and African-descended peoples.  To develop an appreciation for an African-centered perspective in the practice of intellectual and artistic work.




A minor in the field consists of a minimum of 15 hours in African American Studies. In addition to the introductory survey course, student minors are expected to take at least one course from four of the five fields of: education, politics, history, literature or fine arts. All minors are required to take at least one three credit course in each of the three following subject areas: African, African American, and Caribbean Studies.


I.    General Description

The honors program offers an opportunity for majors of proven ability and independence to extend their competence in the field of African American Studies.

Students have the option of writing a research paper or completing a special arts or community-based project supervised by AAST Department faculty members, who assist students in defining the nature of their honors work. Each student and her/his advisor decide upon two additional faculty members who will form the student’s honors committee. One committee member may be drawn from another Oberlin academic department. In some cases, an outside examiner may be selected to aid in evaluation of the student’s honors work.

The Honors Program builds on the 200 and 300 level courses offered within the Department. Students are urged to begin enrolling in advanced courses as early as possible if they want to be considered for the Honors Program. Because academic performance is a criterion for selection into the Honors program, students should also work at sustaining a GPA in the stipulated range.

Once students are accepted into the Honors Program, their work in AAST 350 (the Intermediate Seminar) and AAST 450 (the Senior Seminar) will comprise the first two components of the Honors Program. The third component will be completed in AAST 502, in the spring of senior year. The fourth and final component of the AAST Honors Program is a public talk and/or presentation given by the student, and oral examination given before the student’s committee.

 II.    Admission to Honors

The Honors Program is open to officially declared African American Studies majors who meet the standards of the College and Department. Grade point averages of 3.1 (B) overall and 3.5 (A-) in Department courses are the minimum expectations for selection into the Honors Program. Candidates for the Honors Program would normally have completed six (6) courses or 18 hours in the Department.

The AAST faculty will evaluate the performance of third year students between the first and second semester of junior year, ideally before enrollment in AAST 350 (the Intermediate Seminar). Students who are identified as possible Honors students will be invited into the Program, and begin their Honors work as Provisional Honors students in the Intermediate Seminar.   

 III.   The Intermediate Seminar (AAST 350) and Junior Honors

For most students, the Intermediate Seminar will serve as their Junior Honors work. While all majors are required to take AAST 350, those who are Provisional Junior Honors students will use this work as the basis for their Honors program.

Those juniors who have already taken Intermediate Seminar in their sophomore or second year can use either their Intermediate Seminar work or new work in AAST 500 (Junior Honors) as the basis for invitation into the Senior Honors Program. 

Project-oriented Provisional Junior Honors students needing preparatory work beyond the scope of Intermediate Seminar may continue such work by enrolling in AAST 500 (Junior Honors) with their main advisor.

 IV.   Department Review and Invitation to Senior Honors

Before admission to Senior Honors, Provisional Junior Honors work and continuing attainment of appropriate GPA’s will be evaluated by the

AAST faculty at the end of students’ third or junior year.

 V.    Senior Seminar and Senior Honors

After being invited into the Senior Honors program, students will ideally enroll in AAST 450 (the Senior Seminar) in the fall, and will utilize the requisite seminar paper (35-50 pages) as the first component of Senior Honors. AAST 501 (Senior Honors) will only be used in the case of students who, for valid reasons, are not able to follow the normal trajectory of the Honors Program.  

At this time, students will form their three-member supervisory faculty committee and report the names to the Chair and/or Honors Coordinator by mid-semester. The primary faculty advisor will be joined by two other faculty members, one of whom may be from another academic department.   If an outside examiner is recommended by the student’s committee, this will also need to be reported before mid-term.

In the spring of the senior or fourth year, Senior Honors students will complete an additional written or project component of the Honors Program by enrolling in AAST 502 (Senior Honors) with her/his primary advisor. This final component may be in the form of an additional research paper (35-50 pages), building upon their seminar work or an artistic or community-based project. Students doing projects will write a 15-20 page reflection paper in addition to bibliographic or appended information, after their project is complete.

 VI.   Pubic Talk/Presentation and Oral Examination

The third and final component of Senior Honors will be a public talk and/or presentation given by the student, based on his/her work in the Honors Program. This talk/presentation will be advertised to the campus community and should last about an hour, including a question and answer period. This will be followed by an oral examination by the student’s faculty committee, possibly including an outside examiner.  

VII.   Grading Processes in the Honors Program

Following the oral examination, the committee will determine if the student’s work in the Honors Program has met the standards for recommendation of Honors to the College-wide Faculty Honors Committee.   Students may qualify for Honors, High Honors or Highest Honors, depending upon the quality of their Honors work and their final GPA’s.   Students will not be notified of the results until Commencement.

The faculty supervisory committee will also consult with the primary faculty member on the student’s grade in AAST 502.

The student should leave a record of her/his Honors work in the African American Studies office as part of the Departmental archive.

VIII.    Failure to Complete or Pass the Honors Program

Being dropped from the Honors Program, or dropping out, or failing to pass the Honors exam does not necessarily entail a failing grade in any of the honors courses or the loss of academic credit. The only consequence is that a student does not receive Departmental Honors at Commencement. Students are graded separately for their work in the Intermediate and Senior seminars, which also count as major requirements, and for any other Honors courses they have undertaken and completed satisfactorily, retaining those grades regardless of performance in the Honors Program.

Thus, the African American Studies Honors Program consists of four (4) components:

1.   Successful work in AAST 350 (Intermediate Seminar)

2.   Successful work in AAST 450 (Senior Seminar)

3.   Successful work in AAST 502 (Senior Honors)

4.   Successful work in the Pubic talk/presentation and Oral Examination

Note:   AAST 500 and 501 will only be utilized in some cases where needed. For most students, the Honors Program is complete without them.

Study Away Opportunities

Study opportunities are available in the English-speaking countries of Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania where students are placed at universities or accommodated in international programs like those offered by the School for International Training (SIT) or the Bard program in South Africa. Similar opportunities exist for students proficient in French at the Universities of Dakar, and Sheikh Anta Diop, in Senegal.  A number of study-abroad opportunities also exist in the Caribbean and South America.  Domestic programs like the Philadelphia Center or GLCS Arts/NY can also be relevant to the African American Studies major.   Students on financial aid should consult the Director of Financial Aid before planning to participate in the program.

Transfer of Credit

Students transferring credits in African American Studies from courses taken at other institutions may apply a maximum of nine credit hours toward the major with the approval of the department. Individual cases for students who transfer into the College after their sophomore year will be reviewed by the department.

Winter Term

The African American Studies faculty will sponsor individual projects, on- or off-campus, in African and African American art, dance, education, history, literature, politics, and theater, as well as occasional on- or off-campus group projects.

Private Reading

Students may schedule a private reading course during their junior or senior years. No more than one reading course may be taken in any one semester, nor more than two during the undergraduate program. Normally the private readings may not duplicate regularly scheduled course.

African American Studies Department Online (

For more information on courses, instructors or Afrikan Heritage House (the cultural center), please visit our home page at:


Cross-Referenced Courses

The following cross-referenced courses count toward the African American Studies major and minor:

CRWR 295, ENG 261, ENG 330, ENG 363, HIST 331, POLT 221, 224, THEA 306



Intermediate Courses

Majors are given priority for enrolment in all intermediate and advanced courses.

Advanced Courses

Majors are given priority for enrolment in all intermediate and advanced courses.

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