New Undergraduate Degree in Black Diaspora and African American Studies


Nikita Cardozo

Beginning in Fall Quarter 2022, the African American Studies Program will issue a new Bachelor of Arts degree in Black diaspora and African American studies. They will continue to offer it as the minor as well. 

The minor –– which was first created in Thurgood Marshall College in 2005 and had its first graduates in 2007 –– became a program in the Division of Arts and Humanities in 2014. Graduates of the minor represent 23 different disciplines, ranging from biology to visual arts. The minor has proven to be useful for careers in law, public policy, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social justice. 

Students will have the option to major in one of the three concentrations: Africa and Black Diaspora, African American studies, or interdisciplinary studies where students can pick selected topics and issues throughout multiple departments. 

The 52-unit curriculum will also establish Service Learning classes, including capstone courses and scholarly work. Jessica Graham, the director of the Black Studies Program in the Division of Social Sciences, received $2.5 million from the university to strengthen and expand the focus on African American studies. Graham hopes that top scholars in the field will be drawn to campus. She also hopes that students will be able to research innovative topics and have access to a larger pool of mentors and advisors. 

Moreover, the University of California Office of the President awarded the university $700,000 which will lead to 13 new faculty hires who focus their research on racial disparities in STEM. Similar degree programs were created in the 1960s during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. The Black Lives Matter movement allowed people to understand more about anti-Blackness and systemic racism within higher education, reinforcing the need for more funding.

With African American Studies, the Arts and Humanities division now administers 15 cultural programs, including Japanese, Chicanx and Latinx, and Pacific Islander studies. Interdisciplinary studies between the majors allows students to think critically about social justice and larger questions of identity. 

Thandeka Chapman, director of the African American Studies Program, said  that “currently, the African American Studies Program doesn’t have many classes that are connected to STEM, and hiring faculty in those areas will give students in the sciences the chance to see themselves. A lot of students come to UC San Diego for an education in STEM, but we don’t have a concrete way to speak to them as African American and Black students, in their field.”

One of the goals of this new degree is to allow students to understand how much of a difference Black people make in society culturally, economically, politically, and socially. The major will hopefully help students learn about racism, capitalism, and colonization. 

Graham hopes that top scholars in the field will be drawn to campus and students will be able to study and research innovative topics and have access to a larger pool of mentors and advisors. Students will be able to work with faculty researchers from the Black Studies Project. The Black Studies Project is a research center comprised of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students across UCSD. They focus on groundbreaking research, intellectual exchange and the strengthening of topics focused on Black Studies. She wants the major to help UCSD recognize the importance of this research, especially in STEM fields, and strengthen the sense of community among Black students, faculty, and staff. 

Photo courtesy Brendan Wilson for The UCSD Guardian.