They all came out.
Dressed in everything from Ferragamo shoes to fitted hats, they all attended. They filled the seats well before the 7 p.m. start time. Those that couldn’t sit, stood, and listened attentively.
You could tell it was serious business.
Thursday night at the University Ballroom in the Oglesby Student Union at Florida State University, student s from every black organization on campus gathered to discuss with faculty and administration how FSU can go about getting an African-American studies major.
The panel discussion, “It’s a Major Issue,” hosted by FSU’s W.E.B. DuBois Honor Society, was both long coming and long anticipated. Both sides seemed to agree that FSU needs the major.
Lawrence G. Abele, FSU provost, began the discussion by emphasizing his support of the university obtaining the major. Abele said he excited to see momentum moving towards the major. Currently offers an African-American studies minor, which includes four courses.
Patrick Mason, FSU’s director of African-American Studies, said African-American studies is as vital as any other liberal arts major the university offers and that interest in the area of study is as high as ever.
“We have no problem filling African-American studies classes.” Mason said. “The problem is offering enough courses.”
Narayan Persuad, an adjunct instructor in FAMU/FSU School of Engineering said the major would also hold a significant social value. Persuad said he believes that African-American studies major would help to alleviate some misconceptions and misrepresentations other groups have about blacks.
“It’s completely bogus to do research as an outsider on a group you know little or nothing about,” Persuad said. “Everybody looks at black people from a distance and makes presumptions.”
Persuad gave a telling example of how a three year-old girl once asked him if he could take her to jail. Persuad said he asked her why and she said because she wanted to see her daddy.
“We need more African-Americans that are trained to look at themselves from the inside,” said Persuad, who is Guyanese. “We need to be able to train a cauldron of African-Americans that are willing to do the research to bring an understanding to the fight against the racial divide.”
After the panel, which included deans and professors from related colleges, addressed the audience, it was time for the assemblage to ask questions,
One representative from every organization present stood in a line, which seemed to stretch down the entire east side of the room, and approached the lectern to query the unprepared panelists at random.
One young woman representing FSU’s Association of Progressive Women asked Abele if FSU had the resources and courses available to be pooled and form the major. Abele said that while he didn’t think they had all of the areas right now, FSU could have everything together to move forward with getting the major in the fall.
Despite all the formalness and cordiality, it had to happen at some point – someone had to step up and play Jadakiss and Anthony Hamilton. Someone had to ask the oldest, and in this case, most controversial question, why now?
Ashlee Thomas, a 21-year old marketing student at FSU and member of the Kappa Epsilon chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was that someone.
Thomas said she couldn’t believe this was the first time students had requested the major.
Abele said he’d only talked to two students in the last five or six years about the major and that since the minor program was so strong there really wasn’t much demand for a major.
“I really don’t know why there hasn’t been a lot of interest in the past,” Abele said.
The two biggest issues concerning the issue of the formation of the major at FSU are the recruitment and retaining of black faculty at FSU and deciding exactly what 12 or 13 courses would come together to make up the major.
Abele said FSU has more than 4,000 black students and that 5.4 percent of its faculty is black. He also said the national average for universities with like enrollments is 2.4 percent.
He also explained the process of putting a new major into place.
“It’s a 14 step process,” Abele said. “At the moment we don’t have to go to the Board of Governors, but judging from the last Board of Governors meeting we’re going to have to start going back (to the Board of Governors).”
Regardless of the process, the black student population present Thursday pledged to see the major through from thought to finish. I
In his closing statement, FSU Black Student Union President Donnie Garner said a steering committee composed of students representing every minority organization on campus and faculty will be formed in the next two to three weeks to ensure this effort amounts to results and not just rhetoric.
“Real motivation is when our dreams put on work clothes,” Garner said.
Contact Nick Birdsong at firstname.lastname@example.org.