The African American studies department may soon become the Africology department.
Molefi Asante, chairman of African American studies, told The Temple News he was considering a name change for the department in an interview last week.
Asante said switching the name to Africology would eliminate boundaries he believes the current name holds.
“This is not a geographic field,” Asante said. “‘African American’ was limiting [study] to just a geographical area for a lot of people.”
“For some people it was an ethnic notion that this was a department only for African Americans,” Asante added. “The field is much broader than that.”
Last spring, during the nearly four-month-long debate over the nonrenewal of non-tenure track professor Anthony Monteiro, College of Liberal Arts Dean Teresa Soufas attributed his exit as a “new direction” for the department.
Monteiro, whose studies focused heavily on sociologist and activist W.E.B. Dubois, now teaches two urban studies courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Monteiro’s one-year contract officially ended in late June after 10 years at Temple.
“The department is changing directions, away from civic issues in American history to other areas,” Soufas said in March.
“[The African American studies department is] not going to hire someone else to teach W.E.B. Dubois,” Soufas added. “That’s not something they need now.”
Asante publicly raised the possibility of changing the name in a May 11 Facebook post about the Monteiro situation.
Toward the end of Spring 2014, a proposal to change the name of the African American studies department to Africology was sent to an executive committee in the College of Liberal Arts. Although a similar name change proposal failed in the past, Asante said he is confident sentiments have changed.
The term Africology emerged about 25 years ago as an alternative name for Black Studies departments. It encompasses the study of African countries and the African diaspora – areas where Africans have historically moved to – from an African perspective.
“It is the Afrocentric study of African phenomena trans-continentally,” Asante said.
Asante has long advocated for Africology. In the late 1980s, during Asante’s first stint as chair, he supported a switch to Africology. However, the change was not implemented due to debate between members of the staff, including Joyce Joyce.
Joyce, who chaired African American studies from 1997-2001 and now serves as chair of the English department, did not return a request for comment.
“But now we have a change,” Asante said. “We have a much more global perspective on Africa.”
Students majoring in the department had mixed opinions on the possible change.
“Africology, just the name, gives you more of an idea of an idea of a historical perspective, which is important,” said Nayo Jones, a sophomore African American studies major. “But it doesn’t carry the weight of the full spectrum of the study of African Americans.”
Makeda Tomlinson, a senior African American studies major, was also concerned with the connotations of the name.
“[African American studies] is bigger than just the study, it’s the culture,” Tomlinson said.
Hannah Wallace, a junior African American studies major, felt the term more accurately represented the department.
“We do focus on the diaspora completely,” Wallace said. “Going from African American studies and broadening it through the name, it does make sense,” she added.
Jones was concerned about whether or not the name change would include a change in the curriculum.
Soufas said decision will be up to the faculty. There is the possibility of the development of new courses, which Soufas said is not uncommon.
Asante said African American studies courses will still remain in the department.
The decision for the name change is still pending.
Soufas said that on Oct. 16 there will be a vote at the Collegial Assembly by the executive committee, which is composed of elected faculty members. After the vote, the outcome will be sent to the Provost before reaching the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees.
This would not be the first name switch for the African American studies department at Temple. The first African American studies courses were developed as part of the Afro-Asian Institute during the Black Power Movement, after students protested demanding educational programs to eliminate racism.
In 1972, it became the Pan African Studies department until the name was changed. In 1984, Asante established master’s and doctoral programs in African American studies.
The term Africology has been adopted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Eastern Michigan University, which has both Africology and African American studies departments.
“One of the reasons that Africology is becoming the term for many of the departments that were African American Studies is because of the diversity of Africans and the global nature of the African descent,” Asante said.
Either way, Melanie McCoy, senior African American studies major and president of the Organization of AAS Undergraduate Students, said she’s proud of the department.
“Don’t get so hung up on the name, the message and the meaning is still going to be the same,” McCoy said. “Black people fighting for liberation on a global scale. We’re not just focused on African Americans we’re focused on black people and the diaspora.”
Mariam Dembele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org