Grinnell College in Iowa Launches the Department of African Diaspora Studies

In 1971, the members of Concerned Black Students at Grinnell College in Iowa presented President Glenn Leggett with a list of 10 demands to improve life on campus for Black students and faculty. Among these demands was the creation of a Black studies major. Now that demand has become true.

Grinnell College has announced the creation of the department of African diaspora studies. The department will offer a curriculum aligned with Grinnell’s commitment to social justice and human liberation. It will reside within the Division of Social Studies; however, its course offerings will be highly interdisciplinary. Coursework will focus on Black intellectual and cultural activity, drawing on past and present contributions from Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean.

“The creation of this new department — to be led by a senior-level endowed chair with plans for two additional tenure-track faculty lines — will provide permanence and continuity for Grinnell students and faculty working in this important academic area,” explains Beronda Montgomery, vice president for academic affairs and dean of college.

The college will recruit a senior faculty member who will hold an endowed chair, which represents an additional investment. The new chair will work – with guidance from a steering committee – to design the new curriculum and major. “This robust start demonstrates the seriousness and commitment the college brings to this expansion of Grinnell’s academic landscape, in this moment,” Dean Montgomery said. “It’s a deeply impactful thing to have such an investment.”

Dr. Montgomery added that “part of Grinnell College’s mission is to help create citizens that go out to do wonderful things in terms of social justice and community. I think we’re living in a time right now of grave misinformation, of suppression of history, and of rolling back of civil and human rights, and we need to know how we got here.”

Before coming to Grinnell in 2002, Beronda Montgomery was a professor in the departments of biochemistry and molecular biology and microbiology and molecular genetics, as well as assistant vice president for research and innovation at Michigan State University.  Dr. Montgomery joined the faculty at Michigan State in 2004. She is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. Dean Montgomery holds a master’s degree from the University of Central Arkansas and a Ph.D. in plant biology from the University of California, Davis.

Grinnell College enrolls about 1,800 students. African Americans make up 4 percent of the student body. The new department will undoubtedly help the college in its efforts to attract more Black students.

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