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Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history and African American studies, has been named a  2021 Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s Institute for Citizens and Scholars. The Mellon awards “support junior faculty whose research focuses on contemporary American history, politics, culture, and society, and who are committed to the creation of an inclusive campus community for underrepresented students and scholars.” Dr. Davis also was named a 2021–2022 Harrington Faculty Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. The residential fellowship will allow her to focus on research and collaborations with colleagues in Texas’s Department of African and African Diaspora Studies and across the university.

Davis Named Mellon Faculty Leader

Dara Walker, assistant professor of African American studies; women’s, gender, and sexuality studies; and history in the College of the Liberal Arts, has been named a postdoctoral fellow for 2021 by the National Academy of Education (NAEd), an honorary educational society whose mission is to improve education policy and practice by advancing high-quality research. Walker is one of 25 scholars selected from a competitive pool of 249 applicants.

Funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, the fellowship program supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. During the nonresidential fellowship, Walker will work on her upcoming monograph, “High School Rebels: Black Power, Education, and Youth Politics in the Motor City, 1966-1973.”

Read the article here:

An Open Letter to the African American Studies Community and Our Allies
28 April 2021

I write this open letter in the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict. I intended to write last week but found I could not. For me, it was hard to celebrate the outcome as a “victory.” Victory would undo George Floyd’s murder. It would mean that guilty verdicts in cases where cops kill unarmed people would be unexceptional. And yet, as telling and tragic as this fact may be, Chauvin’s guilty verdict was a milestone, an occasion where massive public pressure, an aggressive prosecution, the breaking of the “blue wall,” and the cell phone footage shot by then- 17-year-old Darnella Frazer combined to define Chauvin’s actions as cold blooded murder.

I did not write to you last week because it seemed wrong, even callous to mention George Floyd and not Ma’Khia Bryant, who at 16-years-old was gunned down by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio. Or Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old gunned down by Chicago police while raising his hands in surrender. Or Daunte Wright, killed during the Chauvin trial, when a police veteran allegedly mistook a gun for a taser. Or Andrew Brown Jr. killed by police in his own driveway with his hands on the steering wheel of his car. All these murders happened this month. In April. April.

I did not write to you because the same day that Chauvin’s verdict was announced, my son’s principal left a voicemail telling me that my 10-year-old was called the n-word by a classmate for winning a soccer game. This was upsetting but not surprising. Being called the n-word is a rite of passage for Black people, so much so that my husband and I had already prepared my son for it. While I sat there streaming the trial verdict, I was also deciding how best to discuss this with my boy. I was also composing, in my head, an email to the principal that asked how SCASD reports and responds to hate speech, how the district addresses collective harm rather than punishing individual wrong?

On Friday, just as I sat down to write again, I learned that the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on Fraser Street had been vandalized by a white nationalist group. Somehow that event temporarily broke me. I was (am) exhausted, and at that point, I decided to remain silent. Let others write their commentaries. I would sit back, hold my family close and attend to the pile of sometimes boring but necessary work that makes our department run.

But then yesterday morning I learned that an AFAM faculty member and her husband found a rope clumsily tied into the shape of a noose on a tree right outside their house. It was a deliberate, disgusting and cruel effort to intimidate and terrorize the only Black family on the block. It was designed to teach an all-too-familiar lesson: Step out of line and we will hurt, maim or kill you. We, the noose said, can wield symbols of oppression with impunity.

Reflecting on the work this department has done to recruit faculty and students of color, it no longer seemed possible to remain silent. I felt I had to bear witness, to affirm that African American Studies will not be cowed, isolated, or shamed into remaining silent. The shame belongs to those who perpetrate, defend or tolerate such acts. My job as an administrator, faculty member, activist, wife and mother will never be to protect the reputation of Penn State, State College, SCASD or any other entity that speaks in the language of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion without doing the hard, painful work of creating a truly equitable, anti-racist, anti- sexist, anti-transphobic, pro-immigrant climate.

My job is to bear witness to the fact that the Trump years have cost us dearly. They unleashed a kind of bigotry and violent nationalism that has always been present but has often been couched in less incendiary terms. But make no mistake the recent hateful acts here and around the country – the murder and brutalizing of Asians and Asian Americans, the hundreds of anti-trans bills making their way through state legislatures, the efforts to suppress Black voting rights – are of a piece. They are a focused, if not coordinated, response to a perceived attack on white supremacy. The conviction of one white police officer and the election of a woman of Afro-Asian descent to the Vice Presidency has spurred on the anger and fear harbored by too many white people.

Even if the Chauvin verdict feels like a very small step toward accountability and justice, it also feels like a turning point. It feels like a moment during which we have snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. It feels like a moment to shed tears and to honor our ancestors’ will to survive. It feels like a moment where we must once again affirm our commitments: We will always call out forms of individual and state-sanctioned violence wherever they appear. We will name them, resist them and fight to eradicate them. We will teach, research and write about histories of struggle that have sustained generations and inspired freedom fighters around the world. We will call out symbolic gestures that stand in for concrete, measurable anti-racist outcomes. And in so doing, we will reassert that Black creativity, Black autonomy, and Black resilience in the face of everyday and spectacular racism is both our birthright and our responsibility.

In Struggle,

Cynthia A Young
Department Head
African American Studies

The Department of African American Studies at Penn State University is committed to racial justice for all people. We know that AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities in the U.S. have faced a long history of legal, social, and racial exclusion that extends back two centuries. The pandemic has reignited anti-Asian racism and gendered and sexualized racial violence that are older than our contemporary moment. 

We invoke and remember the lives lost this past week in Georgia, just as we remember Vincent Chin, taken almost 40 years ago.* We stand in solidarity with Asian and Asian American students, staff, and faculty in our community who are facing racial threats and violent hate incidents, both physical and verbal.

African American studies is a field that formed as an intellectual center and as a refuge not only for African American students, faculty, and staff but for everyone seeking a just and liberated world. We offer our solidarity with Asian and Asian American students, faculty, and staff because we know that freedom and justice are indivisible and that our collective futures are inextricably intertwined.

*At the time of this writing we know the names of some of the victims from Atlanta, GA, including Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.

(Responses or inquiries should be directed to the Acting Head at ).


February 1st, 2021
White supremacists spewing and performing racist bile attacked, with contempt, the Penn State student group, Black Caucus, during their virtual meeting on January 27th, 2021. The students vigorously defended themselves, responding with a statement that is as eloquent as it is anguished. Their rejoinder places this most recent outrage in historical context, demonstrating how it is merely the latest in a long train of racist attacks and abuses against Black Penn Staters. Black students have never needed faculty, whether in or out of Black Studies, to speak for them. On the contrary, as a field of academic inquiry and a subfield within predominantly white-centered disciplines of the social sciences and humanities, African American Studies owes its very existence to the demands, marches, sit-ins and creative disruptions of Black students and their non-Black allies, on and beyond campus. Penn State, where Black students also take our African American Studies classes in disproportionate numbers and are similarly overrepresented at the extracurricular activities we sponsor, is no exception to this rule.
We, the African American Studies Department faculty, stand in solidarity with the students who White supremacists attacked on January 27th. We stand with them because their cause is just. In standing with them, we are also making a down-payment on a historical and moral debt: they have stood by, with and for us since the inception of our field of study. We further support the students’ call to identify the January 27th perpetrators and hold them accountable for what are unquestionably hate crimes. Ultimately, what the students seek, and what they have long been calling for, is transformation. Now is the time for Penn State to make good on its stated commitment to banish white supremacy, subtle and overt, and root out systemic racism from the university.
After the massive, worldwide Black Lives Matter protests of the past year, now is the time. After the events of January 6th, 2021, in the wake of the January 27th outrage, and amid a global and national pandemic that has been especially devastating and deadly for African-descended peoples globally and nationally, we are dangerously out of time. We join the Black students in their demand that the leadership of our university seize this moment and make discernible and indisputable transformations toward racial justice—transformations in administrative leadership, in budgetary priorities, and in retention and recruitment of Black students, faculty and staff; transformations that will impact learning and work spaces on all our campuses; transformations that will be tangible in the lives of every member of the Penn State community. Certainly, now is the time!
From the faculty of the African American Studies Department.
(Responses or inquiries should be directed to the Acting Head at


In their blog entry, they revisited their research on Confederate monuments to weigh in on the events of January 6, 2021.

Find A Monumentally Divisive Moment here:

Find Set in Stone? Predicting Confederate Monument Removal here:


Liberal Arts alumnus Brian Davis continues to be a shining example to Penn State students and alumni for his social justice efforts. Read the article here:

Jan. 13 2021 – Second-year University of Houston Law Center student Charisma Ricksy Nguepdo has been named the Houston Law Review’s editor-in-chief, the first person of African descent to earn that position.

“I recognize that my election as the first Black editor-in-chief means that I have now opened a door for other students of color to dream a little bigger,” Nguepdo said. “My hope is that through my hard work on behalf of the Houston Law Review, students who may have otherwise doubted their ability to join the Law Review will think twice about what is possible for them.” Read the rest of the article here:

The University Libraries has one of the largest collections of African Diaspora thanks to the Charles Blockson Collection, however, there remains a lack of diversity in the overall collections. The African Diaspora: 1860-Present collection is an extensive digital database that will further diversify the Libraries’ collections, amplify authentic voices, and advance scholarly research for current and future students. This full-text database is a global collection essential for an international understanding of Black history and culture. It includes never-before digitized primary source documents (full text), including books, government documents, personal papers, organizational papers, journals, newsletters, court documents, letters, and ephemera from the Caribbean, Brazil, India, United Kingdom, and France. Themes include activism, racism, colonialism and emigration, identities and citizenship, etc. This fundraising priority has a lot of potential for collaboration and partnership with multiple units, departments, and faculty. If we raise more money on Giving Tuesday than needed to purchase the database, additional funds can go to digitizing the Charles Blockson Collection to make it more accessible and available to a broader population.

Click here to give online NOW through Tues, Dec. 1 @ 11:59pm EST.


Across the country Black athletes are mobilizing, threatening to boycott, leaving programs and speaking out to force institutions to reckon with racism and take actionable steps on creating safe and healthy environments for Black students, athletes and non-athletes alike.

Read the article here: