Impact of Africana Studies Department, Professors

The College established its Africana Studies department over 50 years ago with the aim of highlighting the Black experience and increasing discussion of African history. Since its creation, its professors have supported students both inside and outside of the classroom. 

“Bonding and supporting students is a cornerstone of my mission as a professor and the work I’ve done in my professional life,” said Africana Studies Professor Caroline Jackson-Smith. “Being able to get to know students is so exciting — to hear their points of view and to learn about their lives and their activities really enriches me.”

The General Faculty of Oberlin outlined the Africana Studies program in November 1968, stating that the purpose was to “foster understanding of the unique ‘Black Experience’ in America [by] heightening the awareness and appreciation of African history and cultures.” Africana Studies professors take this mission to heart by teaching classes that are interesting and complex. They demonstrate their dedication to students and supporting interests outside of the classroom by helping students cultivate their clubs and communities.

“I think what’s really special about the Africana Studies department in general is that every single teacher that you have [is] more than willing to form a relationship with you in and outside of the classroom,” College third-year Bianca Berger said. “They really care about their students, and even with my intro to Africana Studies course, I was able to form a real relationship with Professor [Charles] Peterson.”

One of the unique things about the Africana Studies department is that it highlights many different interdisciplinary approaches. Many professors working in the department have gotten a degree in or have extensive knowledge of a range of topics such as education, sociology, or philosophy. The work professors do with their students helps them develop a multifaceted understanding of the African experience and how that research can be applied to many other majors.

“The Africana Studies department has truly provided the educational content that I needed that I could not find within my own major,” College fourth-year Olivia Huntley said. “Although I’m not an Africana Studies major, I believe that without [the department’s] influence my time at Oberlin would have been a waste.”

The Africana Studies department is dedicated to those interested in the heritage of African diasporic people. It helps the campus recognize the connections African culture has to their daily lives, from the food students eat at Lord-Saunders Dining Hall to the performances they see throughout the year.