ASU Online launched a new program in Spring 2021 that aims to lead the charge for a more equitable society by examining the history, culture, politics, art and issues that impact African-descended people around the world. In the following question and answer interview, Dr. Mako Ward — the faculty lead for the African & African American Studies program — shares her thoughts on the program’s importance.
Q: Tell us about the African and African American Studies program.
(Dr. Ward) A: In a nutshell, the program focuses on the history, cultures and politics of Black folks throughout the African diaspora. Our program isn't just about America or even North America; it’s a global approach to how we look at and think about the histories of African-descended peoples around the world.
Broadly, one of the things we're most proud of as a discipline is that our academic focus has always been tethered to social justice movements, the civil rights movement, and the Black power movement.
Some of our more popular courses are Race, Gender and Sport; Gender and Hip Hop; Race and Politics; as well as Women and Film. You can also take courses on the pre-colonial African continent and others specific to Western experience that explore the history of African Americans in the U.S., legacies of slavery and legacies of colonialism.
Q: What makes you most excited about the program?
A: Overall, I'm excited to see the kinds of investments ASU is making to provide spaces and resources for the broader student population to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Regarding the program, I'm most excited about the fact that we give students the opportunity to take courses that are specific to issues of arts and culture. You can learn about the roles of Black artists in social movements and contemporary Black arts, including the Harlem Renaissance.
Q: What value do you feel this program brings to ASU students and the Sun Devil community?
A: For students, especially for students of color — specifically African American students and African or immigrant students — we offer a community.
This program creates a path for students who have an interest in social justice; those with an interest in the history of social movements; those interested in going to law school who want to do social justice work or have a justice-leaning legal practice; and those looking for better understanding of how we got to the place we were in 2020.
Q: Other universities offer similar degrees — what sets this one apart?
A: What differentiates our program is our location. Our location in the U.S. borderlands gives us a unique opportunity to engage questions around identity, culture and politics. It allows us to be more intersectional in how we think about what blackness is and how we understand the “Black experience” internationally. Particularly, what it’s like to be Black in the borderlands and what blackness looks like in the Spanish-speaking, Central/South American context.
Q: How does the faculty impact the quality of this program?
A: We're really proud to have faculty from all of those different paradigms represented in the unit, making it highly interdisciplinary with representation from both the humanities and social sciences. We have historians, sociologists, anthropologists, performance studies scholars, and rhetoricians, so we often serve as a hub of interconnections between faculty across the university who are doing research on issues across the African diaspora.
Additionally, the African and African American Studies program is a part of the larger School of Social Transformation community. Our school has the highest concentration of Black faculty of any unit in the university, which is particularly meaningful for students who are looking for experiences with Black faculty. This speaks to ASU’s commitment to diversity, especially given the 25 Actions that President Crow outlined and is expanding. We see ourselves as being part of that commitment.
Q: How can the African and African American Studies program prepare students who want to become change agents in their communities and beyond?
A: After completing the program, students can have a deeper understanding of history, cultural competency and critical race theory, giving them the skill set to create social movements and be well-versed in what they're seeing play out in American popular news and politics.
Students also can develop a comfort level in talking about what diversity is, what equity is and what inclusion is. This allows them to market themselves in the workforce as having that expertise and the ability to engage diverse issues and help build inclusive, equitable work environments.
Your next turn: exploring the African & African American Studies program
Graduates with a B.A. in African and African American studies are globally aware, socially engaged and knowledgeable. Students have gone on to attend graduate school in any number of disciplines, attend medical or law school, start their own business, or pursue careers in journalism, teaching, law enforcement, social policy, human rights and civil rights.
Learn more about the African & African American studies program, or explore our 200+ degrees available through ASU Online.