Tuesday, April 23, 2024

African American Studies degree will prepare students for careers in a variety of disciplines

African American Studies degree will prepare students for careers in a variety of disciplines

MAY 11, 2022 — UTSA will offer a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies (AAS) beginning Fall 2022 through its Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies (REGSS). Through the new degree program, UTSA will prepare graduates in the historical, economic, cultural and sociological factors impacting Black individuals and communities.

“This is the fourth B.A. in African American Studies in the state of Texas and the only one in San Antonio,” said Alejandra Elenes, chair of the REGSS department, which is housed in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development. “The development of this degree is the result of student, faculty and community efforts.”

Final approval for the degree was granted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) this year.

“It’s a discipline that is growing quickly, and we want to be able to stand out and differentiate ourselves from the rest.”

Jasmine Harris, associate professor and UTSA’s African American Studies program coordinator, says the new bachelor’s program is unique because it is grounded in student-centered, transformative pedagogy where students and professors contribute to the creation of knowledge.

For Harris, this means guiding students and honoring their experiences, incorporating content they are already listening to or viewing and, above all, encouraging them to be active in their communities and histories.

Experiential learning will be a focus in all courses within the degree program, supporting UTSA’s Classroom to Career Initiative. UTSA hopes by 2028 to have 75% of students take part in hands-on learning opportunities by the time they graduate. Students in the program will benefit from real-world experiences and skill-building opportunities that will prepare them for careers in a variety of professions such as education, business, law, public policy, health care and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

Harris attributes the new degree program to years of work by past program coordinator and current faculty member Mark Giles, past program coordinator Karla Broadus, and African American Studies professor Marc Perry. Their work, the university’s existing AAS courses and AAS programs at other universities collectively served as guides for the new degree program, she said.

“It’s a discipline that is growing quickly, and we want to be able to stand out and differentiate ourselves from the rest,” Harris said.

As an interdisciplinary and intersectional field of study, UTSA’s program will prepare students to become insightful, intellectual and innovative thinkers and leaders who can work effectively in diverse and challenging contexts. Students will develop critical thinking, social analysis, theoretical knowledge and the practical skills related to working with diverse populations. As learned researchers who can develop, analyze and evaluate policies and practices the influence the African American community, they will be able to contribute to both academic and public discourse on Black experiences.

The program will be informed by Harris’s own experiences as a scholar, as well as the experiences of former students, many of whom now work in research-based positions with the government or various non-profits. These graduates frequently find themselves equipped with valuable skills and experiences that distinguish them from their peers in the workforce, Harris said.

“Everybody’s coming out of college with critical thinking skills; what else separates you?” she said.

Beyond preparing students, Harris believes the AAS program has the chance to positively impact the San Antonio community.

“Literally from the first day that my email was up and running, I started to get emails from community members and organizations in the area that focus on Black people and the needs of Black people, and they’re all clamoring to be connected to the program,” she said.

Harris said she has received requests for student interns and offers to speak and present to classes as well as offers of donations of art and other community and cultural artifacts. She also sees the program helping the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures promote African American culture in Texas.

Explore the programs and points of pride of the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies. 

The UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts began offering a minor in AAS 2007 as a result of significant university and community support. The program moved to COEHD in 2011 under the direction of Giles. It currently offers courses in Black Communities and Cultures, Writing Black Lives, and Black Social Movements to name a few.

"I really see this program as helping to bolster a pretty close-knit community that’s interested in uplifting one another, and I can’t wait to get students involved in that,” Harris said. “I think that’s such a unique position to be in, and it means that this program has so much value to both the university and the community."

Christopher Reichert

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