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Emory University establishes first African American studies PhD in the Southeast

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Emory University establishes first African American studies PhD in the Southeast

Main Quad on Emory University's primary Druid Hills Campus. Photo obtained via Wikimedia Commons

Atlanta, GA — African American studies faculty at Emory University are rolling out of a new doctoral program that will be the first in the Southeast and the first at a private university in the South.

“I couldn’t be more excited or more proud that we are launching our African American Studies PhD program,” said Carla Freeman, interim dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences. “Our faculty have invested years of strategic planning, imagination, and bold ambition to develop the curriculum and recruit top scholar-teachers working across the humanities and social sciences in this vibrant interdisciplinary field.”

An announcement on social media earlier this fall received some 20,000 shares. The program is currently taking applications, with the first doctoral students set to enroll in fall 2023, according to a press release.

African American studies have a long history at Emory, which established the first undergraduate major in the interdisciplinary field in 1971, making it the first degree-granting African American studies program in the South.

“The PhD program in African American studies is something that we have worked so hard for and is so necessary, given the situation where we are right now in terms of understanding the inequities in America, how we got here and how we get out,” said historian Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies.

Anderson has been a major force in championing the program, said Walter Rucker, professor of AAS and history, and chair of the faculty committee that shepherded the program from proposal to implementation.

“Independent of any other events in the wider nation or world, we already knew that an African American studies PhD would be a profound thing for Emory,” Rucker said.

Many faculty members have joined the department in the last six years, among them former directors of graduate studies and scholars and researchers who have trained graduate students at top programs across the country.

“Having that critical mass [of faculty] and knowing we could be the first PhD program in the Southeast, we realized we had an opportunity to create something unique,” Rucker said.

With 14 core faculty and 40 affiliated faculty throughout the university, “Emory will have the largest graduate faculty of any African American Studies PhD program in the nation,” Rucker said, adding that the program “is a unique and unrivaled configuration that will provide a rich intellectual space and training for doctoral students.”

The core faculty includes scholars with research specializations in a wide range of fields, including American studies, anthropology, art history, comparative literature, creating writing, educational studies, English, history music, political science, religious studies, sociology, and women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

The program’s affiliated faculty are based across the university, from Emory and Oxford colleges, to Emory’s Nell Hodgson School of Nursing, Rollins School of Public Health, Goizueta Business School, Emory Law School, and Candler School of Theology.

“The size, interdisciplinary breadth and depth of that talented pool of faculty cannot be overstated,” Rucker said.

Dianne Stewart, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies and Religion, said the goals in planning for the new program were to synergize the intellectual energy of faculty in the department, and “to translate our vision in such a way that would be conversive with other PhD programs operating now, and with Emory’s Laney Graduate School.”

“The mission of African American studies as a discipline from the very beginning has been to produce original new knowledge in service of both the academy and people of African American descent across the nation and the world,” Stewart added.

Each student in the program will receive specialized training in one of three fields: gender and sexuality, social justice and social movements, and expressive arts and cultures.

“What is so powerful about this PhD program is that it not only trains scholars, but also trains people to work outside the academy so that they can bring that expertise to public policy positions, to cultural arts positions, to NGOs. Emory has as one of its core principles harnessing our intellectual firepower to positively transform society, and the PhD in AAS is well within that tradition,” Anderson said.

The program will additionally include professional development workshops created and orchestrated by the core faculty of the program.

“We want to make sure we pour as much mentoring and advising as we can into each student,” Rucker said. “We want to make sure that students have real engagement with alternative career pathways from the very beginning.”

Freeman added that one of the signatures of the African American studies doctoral program is the recruitment of faculty who are builders.

“They are not just intellectual leaders, they model the inextricable connections between graduate and undergraduate education, and between scholarship, teaching, campus leadership civic engagement, and social justice,” Freeman said. “That these faculty will mentor the next generation of leaders is truly inspiring.”

Kimberly Jacob Arriola, dean of the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies and Vice Provost for Graduate Affairs, said the program brings to life Emory’s mission to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.

“Students in this interdisciplinary program will work with expert faculty to advance scholarship in three critically important cognate fields in service to advancing policy and social justice relevant to African American communities,” Arriola said. “We cannot wait to see all the ways in which these scholars will go out and change the world for the better.”

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