A USC sophomore has started a petition calling upon the University to establish an Africana studies major and employ a black professor in the history department.
Austin Rogers, a sophomore majoring in history, is asking students to support an increase in black professors and Ph.D. students, as well as the implementation of more courses teaching the history of African-Americans, Africans and post-colonial independence.
Right now the history department only has two black professors, Francille Wilson and Diana Williams, who are both leaving the University in May. In addition, there have only been two black Ph.D. history students to attend USC since the University’s founding 137 years ago.
Rogers included those points on the petition after speaking with USC Diversity Director George Sanchez.
“That was a really telling data point,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he began to think about the issue about a year ago, after noticing that there are no classes in the history department dealing with the continent of Africa. He was also inspired after reading texts by Malcolm X on Afro-American history.
“There’s this narrative that black culture begins with captivity,” Rogers said. “The goal of the petition is to challenge those assumptions and get more representation on campus.”
Ogechi Ibeanusi, a senior majoring in English and history, helped Rogers organize the petition. Ibeanusi shared the petition as a Google form in multiple Facebook groups, including USC Black Class and Black Campus Minustries, last Wednesday. Rogers and Ibeanusi also posted the petition on their personal Facebook pages.
“It got a really big response from people,” Rogers said. “I’m really grateful that there are people — allies — who aren’t even black who recognize the importance of learning about your shared history and ancestry and what that means for self-empowerment. I think that people just see that, and it’s almost common sense to be disappointed that the University doesn’t offer that.”
Razzan Nakhlawi, a junior majoring in journalism, was one of the supporters who signed the petition and also shared it on Facebook.
“I do think that … especially in terms of history and history departments at universities, having a decolonized and non-Eurocentric aspect of your education is really important,” Nakhlawi said. “I was really glad to see Austin making concrete change toward that.”
Rogers noted that the University’s historical lack of involvement in these issues can be discouraging to students who want to learn more.
“There is a precedent for the exclusion of these kind of studies,” Rogers said. “I mean like the petition said, it’s been 137 years, and there hasn’t really been a lot of traction. We’re facing a big, big obstacle.”
However, Rogers remains hopeful that there is a chance that actions such as his can change this exclusion.
“I’m optimistic that we can keep advocating and rallying people together and organizing,” Rogers said. “We’re not just helping black students but improving the University’s overall environment.”