The Colgate Scene
November 2003

Creating thoughtful world citizens
The cutting edge of interdisciplinary studies

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

The liberal arts university seeks to build on the strengths that a liberal arts college provides -- small classes, close student-teacher interaction, and excellent teaching of courses in the arts and sciences -- and the equally strong values that can be found in research institutions -- solid scholarship based on research that culminates in the addition to, and growth of, knowledge in a particular field. Colgate prides itself on being a liberal arts university under this rubric, and no better example of this is the presence and workings of the Africana and Latin American studies program (ALST).

As a past director of the program, I can clearly state that the ALST program certainly provides the ambience of a liberal arts college. With more than 60 courses that are cross-listed through all the disciplines in the humanities and social sciences as well as in some of the natural sciences, joint appointments, and other components, the program demonstrates in their interdisciplinary approach a cutting edge in the way in which a liberal arts education is provided. Because Africana and Latin American studies is a living manifestation of Colgate's commitment to diversity, interdisciplinary studies, and scholarship, it is in the forefront of what it means to be a liberal arts university. ALST is prepared to engage students in intellectual conversation and knowledge on the meaning of race, ethnicity and issues related to peoples of Africa, Latin America, North America, and the Caribbean. For example, the introductory course on the African diaspora uses history, literature, and sociology to address the issues facing peoples of color dispersed on both sides of the Atlantic, and looks intensely at Africa and the Caribbean as both the beginning of the diasporas and the center of these dispersals. The program offers a similar course for the introduction to Latin American studies.

As for the "university-related" aspect of the program, the vision for ALST suggests that the program will be exploring areas that are on the cutting edge of scholarship that is deepening our understanding of how race, nationhood, and ideology operate in the African diaspora and offers fresh explanations for the formation of racial and ethnic identities. The enrollments in courses offered by ALST have consistently been high, which attests to the widespread interest of the field by the student body. While this is gratifying to all who teach these courses, it also points out the significance of this program to a liberal arts university because through it, students receive knowledge of different cultures, histories, and languages in an increasingly interconnected global society.

"The ALST program offers Colgate students a unique opportunity to bridge differences..."

An expression of commitment
For our students to become thoughtful and empathetic citizens of the world, Colgate's ALST program takes seriously its mission to present students with the best scholarship that is presently being produced. The number and quality of ALST graduates (many of whom were double majors) bears out the program's success. Many ALST majors go on to professional or graduate school. Among recent graduates, Isela Urbina '01 is studying Latin American history in graduate school at Georgetown University, Lisa Cowan '03 is pursuing an advanced degree in African American studies at Rutgers University, Drahcir Smith '02 is studying law at Howard University, and Tayumika Zurita '02 is working on a masters degree in public health at Downstate Medical Center in New York City. These students, as well as the many others who have left Colgate with degrees in Africana or Latin American studies, will become significant contributors to their respective fields during the next 50 years.

Another important aspect of ALST is the programming, which brings the best and brightest scholars in their respective fields to the Colgate community. One of the most significant annual ALST events is the W.E.B. and Shirley Graham Du Bois Lecture Series, which has hosted lectures by some of the most important and influential African American intellectuals in America, including Trudier Harris-Lopez, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Patricia Williams, to name a few, who have presented our students with different perspectives on the black experience in America and how that experience will have a global impact in the future. These lecturers have given our students much to think about as they grapple with the continuing dilemmas surrounding race and gender in America and the world. ALST also has a Caribbean writers series that has brought to campus such important writers as the world-renowned Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. In addition, ALST has worked with other departments and programs to bring speakers and host events on campus that bring the voices of those who have so often been left out of the mainstream of higher education. These activities, whether it be a stirring conversation with Aaron McGruder, creator of the syndicated comic strip Boondocks, inspiring and thoughtful lectures on race by historian Barbara Jeanne Fields, author-teacher-musician Julius Lester, Syracuse University professor Laurence Thomas, author of Vessels of Evil: American Slavery and the Holocaust; panel discussions on violence and corruption in Colombia, and lectures on the challenges facing South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid, are all intended to show our students the diverse and multifaceted thinking of the leading and rising scholars and writers in the ALST arena.

ALST seeks to focus on developing democratic skills and civil discourse; ethical knowledge and spiritual understanding in order to fully comprehend the legacies of slavery, Reconstruction, and the civil rights movement; and the positive impact of African and Latin cultures on European thinking. We seek to examine through scholarship the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality have richly impacted (and complicated) the lives of those whose voices have often not been heard.

There will, of course, be disagreements as differences in methods give rise to differing interpretations and schools of thought. But that is a hallmark of a healthy liberal arts university: honest intellectual differences whose end goal is the search for truth, the enrichment of the mind, and the expansion of the heart. Africana and Latin American Studies strives for all three.

Charles (Pete) Banner-Haley is associate professor of history and served as director of the Africana and Latin American studies program from 2000-2003.
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