African American Studies Granted Departmental Status at the University of Virginia

The Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia was granted departmental status. Deborah McDowell, director of the institute, stated that “the institute has existed since 1981 and for the entirety of that time, it has been a program. A program signals secondary status in an institution of higher learning.”

Professor McDowell added that “many people have assumed that because of its origins, this field of study has always been hampered by assumptions that it was not a legitimate field of study but rather something formed in the heat of battle to satisfy political, as opposed to intellectual demands and prerogatives.”

The institute oversees the African-American and African studies undergraduate course of study, which includes a major, minor and distinguished majors program. The institute also has a residential fellowship program. Dr. McDowell notes that the transition to a department gives the institute more freedom in developing a unique curriculum with distinguished faculty members. The granting of departmental status allows the institute to function autonomously while continuing to achieve interdisciplinary perspectives on research and teaching.

Dr. McDowell is a graduate of Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she majored in English. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in American/African American literature from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She is the author of  “The Changing Same” Black Women’s Literature, Criticism, and Theory (Indiana University Press, 1995). Dr. McDowell joined the faculty at the University of Virginia in 1987 and was named director of the institute in 2008.

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  1. So glad to have found this website. Congratulations and Departmental status iis long overdue. You might be interested in knowing we have a park named after Dr. Woodson in Oakland Park, Florida. Very proud of it. Joanne Powell

    Excellent article.

  2. Kudos for making this vision a reality 36 years later! As a UVA alumna and African American Studies major, this quest is long overdue. The late, Dr. Vivian Verdell Gordon ignited this spark four decades ago. We salute you Dr. McDowell. In addition, many thanks to President Teresa Sullivan for her steadfast support.

  3. Congratulations! My daughter is a 2014 graduate from UVa. Her experience there could not have been scripted better. I am happy and proud of your success for the future of the academy. This Department will be a sustaining legacy and is much-needed at this time in our socio-cultural history.

  4. I recently join a history club,which Dr. Carter G,Woodsen founded. I also attended an elementary school with his name. Your efforts make me want to continue my education at your institute. However, I am past retirement age and live in the Baltimore area. Keep up the good, hard needed work.

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