The rich history of global African scholarship at Syracuse University dates back to the 1960s.
During the height of the civil rights movement, Syracuse became home to a vibrant African Studies program with faculty teaching courses in global African history. Today, programs like the College of Arts and Sciences Africa Initiative (AI) continues this great legacy by creating a multidisciplinary space for graduate and undergraduate students to come together with faculty to explore a variety of topics related to the political, economic, historical and social aspects of Africa, Africans and descendants of Africans.
The Africa Initiative, hosted by the Department of African American Studies, celebrates its 20th anniversary this academic year. Launched in 2001, the initiative aims to renew interest in Africa through a variety of events, says Horace Campbell, professor of political science and African-American studies and director of IA.
Each semester, through guest speakers, graduate student research conversations, community outreach, and research presentations, these events foster cross-disciplinary exchange among attendees, while diversifying and internationalizing the Syracuse educational experience. .
“Our mission has been to promote excellence in multidisciplinary scholarship with a focus on global Africa and to connect the academic community with students, scholars, artists, writers and activists from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America,” says Campbell.
IA programs explore both historical and current topics related to Africa and the African Diaspora. Among recent events: “Who’s Afraid of 1619?” a presentation by Edward E. Baptist, renowned author and professor at Cornell University, on the 1619 Project and its reframing of United States history; the “Revolutions in Africa” virtual discussion where panelists examined historical uprisings and how they shaped the political landscape; and “Disparate Effects of COVID-19”, which investigated the local and global impacts of COVID-19.
The Africa Initiative is a space dedicated to disrupting homogenous and Eurocentric interpretations of Africa, Africans and the African Diaspora, through progressive intellectual conversations and presentations beneficial to any scholar. —Mahder Habtemariam Serekberhan.
AI also provided a platform for Syracuse students to share their own research with others in the university community. Mahder Habtemariam Serekberhan ’21, who earned a Masters in Pan-African Studies and currently holds a PhD in Political Science. student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, recently presented “Ethnic Nationalism, Class Struggles and Imperialism in Ethiopia”, sharing her analysis of a recent trip to Ethiopia where she documented the current political and humanitarian situation in that country .
“The Africa Initiative provided me with a great space to develop my own research techniques,” says Serekberhan. “Invigorating discussions followed by hours of good food and good conversation embody what we consider the purpose of academia: an opportunity to learn, to engage, and to be curious.”
According to Serekberhan, being able to connect with the work of scholars around the world opens participants’ minds to new perspectives, challenging long-held perceptions about Africa.
Aimee Beatrice Shukuru ’22, an international relations and political science major at the College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell, was drawn to the topics of discussion at AI events and the guests who put on a hopeful performance. and authentic from Africa.
She says it is invigorating to engage with scholars and guest speakers from multidisciplinary backgrounds – including the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics – who discuss Africa as that critical knowledge site.
“I was tired and growing frustrated hearing the phrasing of Africa’s ‘failed state’,” says Shukuru. “I joined because the vision and mission provided a wholesome story of Africa.”
Shukuru also credits AI for broadening his understanding of international affairs. “My work with AI has exposed me to different theoretical frameworks and ways of analyzing the world,” says Shukuru. “It introduced me to pan-African scholars and conversations essential to understanding Africa’s past and future.”
She urges other students looking to deepen their understanding of Africa to join IA. “I welcome others looking to (re)define humanity, humility and gain a new way of thinking to join us,” says Shukuru.
According to Campbell, the participation of undergraduate and graduate students is integral to AI’s continued success.
“Students not only help organize events and connect with scholars around the world, but they actively participate in chairing and planning events,” he says. “The Africa Initiative has also provided a space for students to meet independently with faculty and administration.”
Upcoming IA programming includes a student-led Black Caucus for graduate and undergraduate students on Feb. 10 at 5 p.m., academic events on Kalinagos and historical erasures, and discussions on ongoing political affairs in Africa.