Northwestern Faculty Seek to Change the Name of African American Studies Department

The department of African American studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has voted unanimously to rename the department to Black studies. The department announced the decision at a recent event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black studies program at the university. Since the African American studies major was established in 1982, 270 students have graduated with major or minor degrees in the discipline. In addition, 29 students have earned doctoral degrees since the graduate program was established in 2006.

The process of officially renaming the department could take as long as a year. A formal proposal must be made to the dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. The dean will then put the matter to a vote to the college’s faculty. If approved, the provost and president of the university would have the final say on the name change.

Mary Pattillo, the Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and chair of the African American studies department, told the student newspaper that “the motivation comes from the fact that the name ‘African American studies’ privileges the Americas (over Africa, Europe, and other regions) and is most often read to mean the U.S., leaving out Latin America, Canada, and the Caribbean. This new name better reflects what many Black people call ourselves, and it encompasses the entirety of the Black Diaspora.”

Professor Pattillo is the author of Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class (University of Chicago Press, 1999) and Black on the Block: The Politics of Race And Class in the City (University of Chicago Press, 2007). She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York City, where she majored in urban studies. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago.

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