Our Mission and Vision
The Department of African American Studies is a meeting ground for scholars, students and thinkers committed to the study of African American and African-descended peoples in the Americas. With faculty trained in anthropology, English, history, philosophy, and other disciplines, our collective work fosters critical understanding of the diaspora’s many cultures and expressions. As we foster meaningful engagement with the economic, social and political conditions of black life on campus and beyond, we seek to build a vibrant community of inquiry and innovation at Penn State.
Penn State’s first black studies course was taught in the fall of 1967 and by 1971, the university began to consider starting a black studies program. In 1973, a university committee recommended the creation of the African and African American studies program, which would at first be called the Black Studies program, and President John Oswald approved its creation; Cyril E. Griffith was placed in charge of the program. The Black Studies Program was based on courses taught through other departments within Penn State. In 1988, a student group called Concerned African Americans at Penn State protested and held sit-ins. They presented a list of demands to Penn State President Bryce Jordan, including a demand to turn the Black Studies Program into its own department. The Penn State Board of Trustees approved the change from the Black Studies Program to the Department of African and African American Studies in the College of the Liberal Arts in March of 1992. Black Studies/African American Studies Program Heads Name Year(s) Cyril E. Griffith 1975-1978 Virginius B. Thornton 1978-1980 James Stewart 1980-1989 LaVern Gyant 1990-1993 (Interim)