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Northwestern Will Change ‘African American Studies’ To ‘Black Studies’ After Faculty Vote, Here’s Why


The faculty in Northwestern University’s African American Studies Department unanimously voted to change its name to Black Studies in April, but the official change could take up to a year to finalize.

Department chair Mary Pattillo said the vote was prompted by a desire to be more inclusive of all Black people, according to a report by The Daily Northwestern.

“The motivation comes from the fact that the name ‘African American Studies’ privileges the Americas (over Africa, Europe, and other regions) and is most often read to mean the U.S., leaving out Latin America, Canada, and the Caribbean,” Pattillo wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily.

The department announced the pending shift to Black Studies when it celebrated its 50th anniversary. The decision comes after more than a decade of conversation and recurring townhalls on the topic, Pattillo said.

Input from students also contributed to the shift. A survey by the department revealed only 36 percent of 151 respondents thought African American Studies accurately represented the department’s curriculum and people.

A follow-up listening session attended by approx. 400 people confirmed the results.

“At that meeting, the clear consensus for a new name was Black Studies,” Pattillo said. “This name better reflects what many Black people call ourselves, and it encompasses the entirety of the Black Diaspora.”

The dean and faculty at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, which houses the department, will have to support a formal proposal before the department’s name is changed, but supporters don’t foresee much opposition.

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Northwestern isn’t the only university to change the name of its department that studies the Black Diaspora. In Sept. 2021, East Tennessee State University also announced it was changing the name of its Africana Studies Department to Black American Studies (BAS).

“The new Black American Studies Program is excited to be open for business,” the program’s director Dr. Daryl A. Carter said, adding the department “changed its name to reflect the program’s focus, pursue opportunities, engage faculty and diligently establish partnerships with a variety of partners on campus and throughout the region.”

PHOTO: Black Student In A Black Studies Class In A West Side Chicago Classroom Reading A Book About Great Rulers In Africa’s Past, 10/1973 (Photo: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr)

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