JCFS considers African studies major

The Elliott School of International Affairs will be one step closer to adding a new major that focuses on African development, politics and health if the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students approves the proposed program next month.

While the Elliott School already offers a regional concentration and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences offers an Africana Studies minor focusing on the humanities of the continent, there is no Africana studies major at GW. Junior Lamar Thorpe, a member of the JCFS who was designated to present the new major to the committee, said the proposed program would be different from opportunities already offered at GW.

“(The proposed program) would be moving away from traditional African studies,” he said, adding that some focuses of the curriculum could be security in the region and the AIDS epidemic.

The creation of an Africana studies major was first proposed more than a year ago to the Student Association Senate. The Senate passed a resolution calling for the major, and the proposal was referred to the JCFS in September, when Thorpe was selected to research and present the issue at a later date.

“I’m the only person of color on the JCFS, so when (the issue) came up it was obviously my priority,” said Thorpe, who will present the major to the committee in February.

If the committee votes to pass the proposal, then it would be considered next by the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, a board made up of seven to 10 faculty members, said junior Charlie Leizear, co-chair of the JCFS.

“The Executive Committee is a body that chooses which legislation will be discussed before the entire Faculty Senate, which in total is about 10 pieces per year, as opposed to the Student (Association) Senate, which puts out about 50 to 75 resolutions a year,” Leizear wrote in an e-mail.

Thorpe said he has been working with the Elliott School faculty and administrators throughout the fall semester to gather information to present to the JCFS. He added that he has also received feedback from the black community at GW, and has been gaining support and publicity for the creation of the major.

“I don’t want to make it seem like I’m doing all the work,” Thorpe said. “I have letters from many black organizations on campus, including the NAACP, endorsing this.”

Thorpe said the details of courses within the proposed program have not been worked out yet. If the proposed major reaches the full Faculty Senate, members of the committee would then come up with a curriculum, he said.

“(They will look at) what type of professors we have around the university and what their relation is to African Studies,” Thorpe said.

While Thorpe said he is hopeful that the new major will be approved by both the JCFS and the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, Leizear said the creation of new departments at GW is becoming increasingly difficult.

“More often than not GW is decreasing departments, not adding them,” he said.

In 2004, the University merged language departments and eliminated the Earth and Environmental Science Department as well as the peace studies minor. In October, GW’s Board of Trustees announced that the number of doctoral programs had been reduced from 52 to 34 over the course of last year.

Leizear said that even if the creation of the new major is approved by the JCFS, it is doubtful that GW will see the program advance any more by the end of this semester.

“Because of the time it takes to consider the development and implementation of such a proposal, it is not likely for the legislation to come to the floor of the Faculty Senate this year,” he said.

Thorpe said that he thinks establishing an Africana studies major at GW would, among other things, contribute to the larger demand for diversity in universities across the nation. He added that he also thinks such a major would increase diversity in enrollment at GW.

Statistics released in October indicate that for the last three years, undergraduate racial diversity at GW has remained relatively stagnant, and there were 100 fewer black students enrolled in fall 2005 than in fall 2004. During the last three years, GW has barely budged from 65 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic and 9 percent Asian.

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