Sunday, June 15, 2014

The value of bringing a broad group of students together

If you ask our Institute founder Joycelyn Moody or our coordinator Erin Ranft, or even me what the major benefit of our program is, we'll likely start talking about what we do to prepare students for advanced study beyond college. We might also be inclined to supply you with the numbers of students from our program who have gone on to graduate schools. Those are important aspects of our program.

Lately, though, I've started thinking that we've been overlooking a basic yet really important function of the Institute: the program brings together a range of students from various universities to cover black studies topics.

Oddly enough, such gatherings happen infrequently. Sure, diverse groups of students get together for social events (i.e. spring break in Cancun; HU's homecoming). But to discuss black studies?
About 16 years ago, while an undergraduate, I participated in the UNCF/Mellon program at Emory University where a group of 25 students gathered to concentrate on research projects related to black studies, in general. That experience was really important to my overall intellectual and professional development.

The UNCF/Mellon program consisted of only those of us from HBCUs, so we gained an important opportunity to talk with students at different institutions, though not with our peers at predominately white institutions (PWIs). So far, AALCI has managed to include students from HBCUs and PWIs, and I'm clearer now that it is important to have the groups of students interacting with each other in a seminar setting. They learn quite a bit from each other. They are also inclined to question their different social locations, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of being where they are.

It's unfortunate that we (university officials) haven't done more to bring different groups of students together. We need reasons other than quiz bowl and debate team competitions to bring students together. Conferences may not be the best option either, not if the goal is to work through questions and concerns with long histories.      

Bringing cohorts of students from across the country together over the last five years to discuss black studies and other topics has been an important intellectual and professional experience for students prior to and even beyond what we do to prepare young people for graduate study.

AALCI 2014


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