By Kysa Anderson Daniels
DECATUR, Ga.— Students in the African-American Studies (AAS) pathway will take core curriculum and African American-focused courses to earn an associate of arts degree in a new degree pathway program this fall at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College.
About 20 Perimeter instructors and professors this month will begin teaching four AAS courses examining African American literature, social issues, history and culture. While work had been taking place over the course of recent years, the timing is significant following months of national and international demonstrations and civil discourse about racial inequality and systemic discrimination.
Dr. Crystal Garrett, Perimeter’s interim associate chair of History and Political Science and a political science associate professor, is co-chair of the AAS curriculum committee. She emphasized that African-American Studies is a multidisciplinary pathway focused not only on African American history, but also sociology, psychology, theology, art, literature, political science and economics.
Garrett also developed a service learning component for the pathway that will enable Perimeter students to tutor individuals in DeKalb County’s juvenile court system who are studying for their GED diplomas. The partnership, Garrett said, underscores a key goal of the African-American Studies discipline, which is to educate students while preparing them to serve and address needs and issues in marginalized communities.
“This is a great opportunity for AAS students to give back to their community by helping at-risk youth,” Garrett said. “It can provide a rewarding experience for mentors and have a positive impact on mentees.”
Dr. Nancy Kropf, dean of Perimeter College, said she is pleased the college’s first new program of study since its consolidation with Georgia State in 2016 is African-American Studies.
“Launching a new degree pathway is done only after considerable thought and preparation,” Kropf said. “The African-American Studies pathway will help prepare Perimeter students who want to bring about positive changes in our communities, our nation and the world through their chosen professions.”
Dr. Shawn L. Williams has taught English, humanities and introduction to AAS courses at Perimeter since 2002. He advocated for the creation of an AAS program at Perimeter and joins Garrett as co-chair of the pathway’s curriculum committee.
“The most important mission of African-American Studies is to engage students and prepare them to identify, challenge and undo institutional and ideological racism, sexism and classism,” Williams said.
George Vargis, interim department chair for Perimeter’s Department of History, Political Science and African-American Studies, recalled the role another Perimeter professor, the late Mario Bennekin, played in bringing the AAS pathway to fruition. Vargis says that as a history professor and as chair of Perimeter’s History and Political Science Department, Bennekin incorporated a strong focus on social justice for African Americans. Bennekin taught at Perimeter for 20 years and passed away in March 2019.
“He was instrumental in bringing the African-American Studies curriculum to Perimeter College through a multidisciplinary approach as a means of introducing students to a wide range of historical and contemporary perspectives on American history,” Vargis said.
The pathway will bring to light longstanding social and political ills, such as those illuminated by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year in Georgia. Arbery’s killling prompted the Georgia’s recent hate crime legislation.
African-American Studies is useful for students desiring to go into fields focused on social services and reform, such as teaching, health care, political science and law, according to AAS curriculum coordinators. Well-known figures, including actress Angela Bassett, filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay and former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, have degrees in African-American Studies.
Students who take the African-American Studies pathway at Perimeter will be able to seamlessly transition to Georgia State’s Atlanta Campus and continue their studies. Last year, Georgia State celebrated the 25th anniversary of its African-American Studies program, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a graduate certificate.
Above: Dr. Crystal Garrett, Perimeter’s interim associate chair of History and Political Science and a political science associate professor, is co-chair of the AAS curriculum committee and will teach classes in the new AAS pathway.