Change of Perspective of Africana Studies throughout the years


Above are Black Student Union officers from 1975. The BSU organization was first recognized at EWU in 1968; it focuses on black identity, black unity and black pride.

By Emily Driskel, News Editor


Throughout the past few decades, the perspective of Africana studies has changed various times.

In the video “Black Studies in its Perspectives,” recorded in 1973 and posted on Youtube by the Eastern Archives, Edward L. Powe talks about why having a Black Studies program is essential to universities. 

He begins by describing the Europeans’ view on African American culture and their attempt to control what these students are learning in classes. Powe said before Black Studies began, black students noticed that their white professors were still teaching from their traditional points of view. 

A few years before this video was recorded, students and faculty wanted EWU to incorporate more resources for ethnic minorities. 

“Realizing the social and economic benefits of a college education, [the students] were tired of being spoon-fed European culture,” said Powe. 

In 1972, Black Studies hired the first-full time administrator and in 1973, the first full-time professor was hired. 

At this time, Powe said the Black Studies program was progressing. He goes on to say that the listeners should be aware of apathy and over-expansion.  

“With apathy, we must first realize the significance and importance of Black Studies to black people,” said Powe. 

Powe said that in order to broaden the students’ knowledge, we must learn to appreciate the multi-ethnic reality of this world. The purpose of Black Studies was for black students to appreciate their distinctions and for their culture to be known. 

He ended the video by saying the university had 25 courses and needed support from the community. 

Africana Studies Coordinator George DuVall addresses the crowd at the Day For Dreamers Rally, March. 2, 2017. (PHOTOS)

“Black Studies was originally designed with the interests of black students at heart,” said Powe. “In order to expand and prosper, however, Black Studies must make an effort to induce white students to take black-oriented courses. Neither blacks nor whites are an island unto themselves.” 

Dr. Okera Nsombi has worked with the now Africana Studies program since he began working at EWU in 2015. Before taking the position at EWU, Nsombi worked at Northern Kentucky University, Claflin University, South Carolina University, and University of South Carolina. 

Nsombi has taught Introduction to African American Studies, African American Studies, African American Culture and Expressions, and a few others. When Nsombi first started teaching several years ago, around seven to 10 students came up to the Africana Studies lounge. After about two to three years, 35-55 students would drop by during the day. This was confirmed by the former program coordinator after he looked at the numbers.

More food was eaten and more conversations were happening in the lounge. 

“We had a lot of students that were building relationships,” said Nsombi. “We had a good time up there.” 

The first African American Studies program started at San Francisco University in 1968. During this time, many students led strikes on campus. With protests and movements occurring more frequently, Nsombi said it was more likely for students to participate in these acts. He said some students risked their lives to return to the South just to see if segregation was still happening. 

Members of EWU’s Black Student Union, Africana Studies Department and other Eastern students advocated race and diversity education on campus through a protest held on Nov. 3, 2020.

“[The students] were in a climate where protests were normal,” said Nsombi. “Their consciousness to me was just so sharp.” 

Multiple movements were going on at the same time, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. Students were fighting against actions that were more visible, according to Nsombi. 

“The first African American Studies program was a bridge between the intellectual development of students at school and the communities that they came from,” said Nsombi. 

Nsombi talked about the limited contact with the community that he has seen throughout the universities he has worked at. He said the university setting has changed since the first African American Studies program began. Systematic racism is harder to talk about because it is hard to prove. He said some people think systematic racism is not as bad as it was some decades ago while others, including himself, said it is probably worse. 

Nsombi said he wants to continue to form a relationship with the community. The Africana Studies program has gone to the South Hill public library as well as some other locations during past spring quarters. Nsombi and some of the faculty would also individually present on a particular topic once a week. 

Nsombi would like to see more internships built into the Africana Studies program to become more active with the community.

“I know that’s hard to do when you’re in college,” said Nsombi. “But if it is part of the service learning aspect, that’s one of the vital principles of African American Studies.”