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BSN spearheading development of McGill Africana Studies Program

The Black Student’s Network of McGill (BSN) is currently spearheading an initiative to develop an Africana Studies program in the Faculty of Arts. The program would offer an interdisciplinary study of the histories, politics, cultures, and contributions people with African heritage and in the African diaspora have made to communities throughout the world. Although McGill currently offers major, minor, and honours programs on both African Studies and  Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Ommu-Kulsoom J. Abdul-Rahman, vice-president (VP) Finance of the BSN, believes that an Africana Studies program would provide a novel intercontinental perspective by adopting a great focus on diasporic African communities.  

“One can pursue African Studies and one can pursue Latin American and Caribbean Studies.” Abdul-Rahman said. “Whereas, if we were to have an Africana Studies program it would encompass all peoples of African descent thus unifying these two programs into one and including the African diaspora from other regions of the world as well.”

McGill’s African Studies program, developed in 1969, was the first of its kind in North America. However, Abdul-Rahman finds that the university’s current approach to African studies is very limited.

“We promote the notion that we should not speak of Africa as a country and we should move past the single narratives, however we then have courses that are titled Foreign Policy Africa [POLI 352], as if 54 countries share the same foreign policy,” Abdul-Rahman said. “As someone who is of Ghanaian descent it is not only quite difficult to sit through courses that fail to acknowledge our varying experiences and histories, but it is frustrating because ultimately it is the students that suffer.”

As one of the Arts Senators elected for the 2018-2019 academic year, Abdul-Rahman hopes to be a key player in pushing for the development of Africana Studies at McGill. A large part of her platform involved bringing forward course proposals to the Senate Academic Policy committee (APC).

“[I’ll prioritize] gathering data in terms of student interests as well as working with the professors that specialize in this field to curate course proposals and then present them before the Senate APC Subcommittee on Courses and Teaching Programs,” Abdul-Rahman said.

BSN first proposed the idea of developing an Africana Studies program at McGill to the History Department in 1991. After the proposal was rejected in 1993, the Africana Studies Committee organized in 1994 with the goal of promoting understanding of the role played by Africans and peoples of African descent in shaping modern history.

“Our goal is to move forward with the goals set forth by this committee over 25 years ago,” Christelle Tessono, VP political of the BSN, said.

According to Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) VP Academic Madeline Wilson, the AUS Executive is not currently involved in the development of an Africana Studies program. However, she believes that such a program will be viable and, in general, encourages departmental student associations to advocate for the revision or expansion of academic curricula.

“I think that an expansion of the African Studies program has the potential to greatly impact both the social and academic discourse at McGill surrounding non-Western places and ideas,” Wilson said. “Although I recognize that I myself am not very educated on much non-Western material, I believe that the current narrative around such places as purely developing trivializes their importance and opens the door to exoticization. I believe that an expansion of the African Studies program would be able to contribute to the necessary exposure to amend this discourse.”

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