Africana Studies Department Hosts Emerging Scholars Conference
By Benjamin Pontz ’20, Staff Writer
Celebrating its 30th year of existence at Gettysburg College, the Africana Studies Department hosted its third biennial conference entitled “30 Years of AFS: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” a hard-hitting, two-day event that featured nine emerging scholars sharing their research, a keynote address aimed at illuminating the challenges facing the discipline, and ongoing introspection from students who attended.
The conference began last Friday, February 10, with a speech from Professor David Canton, the Director of Africana Studies at Connecticut College, and then proceeded on Saturday with three panels of three emerging scholars each: “AFS and Citizenship: Interrogating Borders, Space, and Identity,” “AFS and Activism: Examining Global Movements for Social Justice,” and “AFS and the Arts: Considering Images, Narratives, and Cultural Expressions.”
Planned by the three junior faculty members in the Africana Studies Department, Hakim Williams, McKinley Melton, and Chipo Dendere, the event was co-sponsored by a variety of organizations and departments including the Central Pennsylvania Consortium, Consortium for Faculty Diversity at Liberal Arts Colleges, Gettysburg’s Office of Multicultural Engagement, and the Departments of Political Science, Art, LACLS, Interdisciplinary Studies, Sociology, Education and the Sunderman Conservatory.
This was the third iteration of the conference; Williams, an assistant professor of Africana Studies, has been involved in planning them all.
“The impetus initially for this was that we wanted to have a space for freshly minted Ph. Ds or folks who were about to finish who were doing any kind of work on the African diaspora,” he explains. “Students get to see the breadth and depth of Africana Studies. What makes this year special was that it is our 30th year of Africana Studies at Gettysburg, so our theme was ‘looking back, looking forward.'”
The planning committee invited personal acquaintances and contacts studying various aspects of Africana Studies and grouped them into the three panels. Because the committee members are relatively young, they still know people finishing their terminal degrees and beginning professorships.
“[These presenters] are a reflection of where Africana Studies is heading, so it’s great to have these fresh, young voices,” says Williams.
One particularly meaningful presentation both for Williams and Chelsea Johnson, a senior Africana Studies minor who attended the entire conference, was that of Julius Fleming, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, who used the image of Michael Brown’s slain body lying in the street of Ferguson for four hours after he was shot by a police officer as, in Williams’ words, “an analogy to explicate the long lineage of black patience and waiting, and that, to me, had really strong substantive resonance.”
“Oh! It was so good,” she recalls. “It speaks to our time now with our current political climate and all the things that have been going on like the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Overall, the conference gave her a broader understanding of Africana Studies as a discipline.
“It was amazing,” she says. “I got to see different areas of Africana Studies that aren’t taught here. The program here doesn’t cover all the aspects, so I feel we got a great look into what Africana Studies offers and all that it could offer. The different talks definitely were representative of Africana Studies, and made me reflect on what I would like to see Africana Studies become here at Gettysburg.”
That is exactly what Williams hopes to do: expose students to specializations and aspects of Africana Studies beyond the expertise of the on-campus faculty.
Africana Studies Department Chair Jennifer Bloomquist echoes those sentiments.
“We established the series six years ago in an effort to bring young scholars doing cutting edge research in the field to Gettysburg,” she explains. “We wanted not only to show our students the depth and range of social and academic work possible with a degree in AFS, but also to provide a space where the faculty in the program could connect with young intellectuals working in the field.”
Williams acknowledges that most students who attended did so to meet a requirement from a course they are taking, often the “fourth hour” component of the Gettysburg College Curriculum, but he rejects any idea that that diminishes the conference’s value.
“You know, when students are compelled to go to these things, they roll their eyes, like ‘it’s all day,'” he explains, “but at the end of the day, they’re like, ‘Thank you so much for making me go. On my own I wouldn’t go, but I’m so glad I went.’ And then they ask if we’ll have time to debrief this in class. They leave with an enriched understanding of the field of Africana Studies, and that’s really heartening for me to see, and to see my students so passionate at the end of it and want to discuss it and go deeper.”View Fullscreen
Gettysburgian staff writer Morgan Hubbard contributed to this report.