Current and Prospective Africana Students Why Major in Africana Studies?

In 1995, Nancy J. Dawson, D.A., an alumna of the Africana Studies Department, wrote her doctoral dissertation called "An Investigation into the Benefits of Having an Africana Studies Masters Degree: A Case Study Focusing on M.A. Recipients from the Department of Africana Studies State University of New York at Albany, 1972-1994." Her publication answers the questions of how Black Studies programs were created and why, the benefits for its graduates, and why students choose to major in Africana Studies. Please read the following dissertation abstract:


Students pursuing a Black Studies degree often meet with challenges resulting from racism. Students are sometimes discouraged by advisors and faculty from majoring in Black Studies because of the alleged limited employment prospects after graduation. Some scholars argue that Black Studies has never been fully accepted by the academy. Naturally, the discipline has had problems in the white university environment. After all, Black Studies came to these campuses as part of the Black Power Movement.

Unlike any other academic unit, Black Studies was created almost solely out of the demands of students and the Black community. Thus, from its inception, Black Studies has been highly political and controversial. Throughout its history, Black Studies has been stereotyped. It has not been considered as valid or as challenging as other disciplines to many in the academy. Black Studies programs and departments have graduated hundreds of students; however, there is little research detailing the impact of Black Studies on former students.

Testing the ongoing criticism that Africana Studies is a discipline which has few benefits for its graduates in terms of economic advancement and social and psychological development, this study focuses on the graduate program in Africana Studies at The University at Albany, State University of New York, from 1971 to 1994. This study:

(1) Investigates the way in which the Africana Studies Department at SUNYA has impacted the professional and personal lives of former graduate students in the department. (2) Probes into these students' decisions to choose Black Studies as a major. (3) Investigates whether or not they believe the department has been beneficial to them and, if so, in what manner.

This was accomplished through a questionnaire which includes several open ended questions serving as narratives. The graduate program at SUNYA serves as the focus of this study for several reasons. First, in the United States there are only a few programs and departments offering masters' degrees in Black Studies. Second, graduate students generally are older and have previous academic and professional work experience and can accordingly contribute information based upon their extensive backgrounds. Lastly, the basic purpose of the graduate program in Black Studies is to train and develop students interested in making Black Studies a Profession.

If you are interested in reading the full text of this document it can be viewed on microfilm (Microfilm No. HM1052899 1995 D 39), through the University at Albany Library.

For a look at UAlbany Africana graduates and how they have used their degrees in Africana Studies, read "Where are our graduates now?"