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Fifty years of Africana Studies, John Brown Russwurm African American Center and the Black Student Union

November 8, 2019

This weekend, alumni, students and guests will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Africana Studies program (formerly known as Afro-American Studies), the Black Students Union (BSU, formerly known as the African American Society) and the John Brown Russwurm African American Center. This weekend’s celebration, titled “Af/Am/50: Reflecting/Perspectives,” aims to commemorate a half century of multicultural community and scholarship at the College. Four-hundred and twenty-nine people have registered for the program, including 172 alumni, 94 faculty and staff and 113 students.

Af/Am/50 will begin today with various lectures, performances and panels, and will end on Sunday. Highlights include a keynote address by Geoffrey Canada ’74, H ’07, a dinner reception with DeRay Mckesson ’07, a concert featuring multi-Grammy nominated musician Marsha Ambrosius and a conversation with President Clayton Rose and Kenneth Chenault ’73, H’96. There will also be an Af/Am/50 ball, a party at the John Brown Russwurm African American Center, exhibit talks at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and various alumni roundtables.

Af/Am/50 was jointly organized by Alumni Relations and the Africana Studies department. Many of the events will be held in the John Brown Russwurm African American Center, named in honor of the first Black graduate of the College, John Brown Russwurm, Class of 1826. Although it took 84 years for another Black student to matriculate, students of color now make up 35 percent of the current first year class.

The celebration coincides with the African American Society’s name change to the Black Students Union (BSU), a change that has been discussed for more than eight years. After hearing feedback from students, faculty and alumni, the change was implemented to acknowledge the diversity of Blackness among BSU members, where students identifying specifically as African American are the minority. This change emphasizes a continued effort to expand BSU’s programming to accurately represent Black students’ backgrounds.

Similarly, in 1990, the Afro-American Studies program was renamed as the Africana Studies program, reflecting a shift in the department’s focus from solely African American history to include the African diaspora. Since its founding 50 years ago, 141 students have graduated as majors in the program, and 16 more are expected to graduate this May. Many of these graduates will return this weekend to reminisce about their time at the College and discuss the future of the Africana studies program.

In this special section of the Orient serves to highlight this weekend’s programs, share the experiences of former and present Black students and honor the past 50 years of the College’s multicultural community.



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