African American Studies 10th anniversary celebration at MSU culminates with Black Studies Conference Nov. 5-6

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Earl Lewis (Submitted photo)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University will welcome prominent black studies scholars next month for a two-day conference celebrating the culmination of the African American Studies program’s 10th anniversary.

Free to all, the conference gets underway Nov. 5 with a 6 p.m. film screening and panel discussion for the award-winning 2016 documentary “Agents of Change” in the Colvard Student Union’s second-floor Bill R. Foster Ballroom. Rick Travis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will give opening remarks.

Panelists include the film’s co-director Frank Dawson, interim dean of career education at Santa Monica College’s Center for Media and Design; Shirley Hanshaw, MSU professor of English; and Jerry Varnado, attorney at law, activist and San Francisco State University graduate.

Nicole Rader, interim administrative director of MSU’s AAS program and College of Arts and Sciences interim associate dean for academic affairs, will deliver an official conference welcome at 8:30 a.m. Monday [Nov. 6] in the Union ballroom. Following her remarks, MSU Department of History Head Alan Marcus will give a “Thinking Back on 10 Years of AAS” presentation. 

Irene Smalls (Submitted photo)

“We have many distinguished guests who will be speaking about black studies programming and research around the U.S., specifically focusing on history, contemporary issues and the future for black studies programs,” Rader said. “Our celebration will focus on the creation and future of African American Studies at MSU, and we look forward to seeing students, faculty and staff take part.”

Several panel discussions with question-and-answer sessions, as well as a keynote address luncheon, will take place Monday in the Union ballroom. They include:

—9-10:30 a.m., “Historical Issues in African American Studies” panel discussion moderated by Anthony Neal, MSU assistant professor of philosophy and religion. In addition to Varnado, panelists include Benny Stewart, activist and San Francisco State University graduate, and Jason Morgan Ward, MSU professor of history.

—11-12:30 p.m., luncheon featuring a keynote address by Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Judy Bonner, MSU provost and executive vice president, and Don Shaffer, MSU associate professor of English, will give remarks prior to Lewis’ presentation.

Jerry Varnado (Submitted photo)

—1-2:30 p.m., “Contemporary Issues in African American Studies” panel discussion moderated by Shaffer. Panelists include Maggie Hagerman, MSU assistant professor of sociology; Mark Christian, professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies at Lehman College - City University of New York; activist Vernon Smith, former journalism and radio-TV-film production student and Black Student Union member at San Francisco State University; and activist Bernard Stringer, a San Francisco State University graduate who became the first student in the U.S. to earn a degree in black studies.

—2:45-4:15 p.m., “Future Issues in African American Studies” panel discussion moderated by Andrea Spain, MSU associate professor of English. Panelists include James Garrett, activist featured in “Agents of Change”; Francoise Hamlin, associate professor of history and Africana studies at Brown University; Irene Smalls, award-winning author, historian, literacy entrepreneur, activist and Cornell University graduate; and Ramona Tascoe, activist, physician, ordained minister and San Francisco State University graduate.

A reception with complimentary refreshments will take place 4:15-5:30 p.m. in the Union’s second-floor Old Main Lounge.

Part of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, the African American Studies program offers courses on history, literature, politics and other aspects of black life and culture leading to an undergraduate minor in African American Studies.

Graduate students also can develop a concentration in AAS. Those who successfully complete a combination of course work, teaching assignments and community engagement will earn a certificate of completion, as well as a letter of recognition from the director of the program. The graduate program also offers an online diversity certificate.

“Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the African American Studies program has been its incredible growth over the last 10 years,” said Shaffer, who helped launch the program in fall 2008.

“I tend to measure that growth in terms of student impact; that is, how many students are we impacting every year. In fall 2008, my AAS classes typically enrolled about 10-15 students,” Shaffer said. “We now offer two to three sections of Introduction to African American Studies every semester, as well as sections in the summer, to meet the growing demand.”

For more information on MSU’s African American Studies program, visit or follow on Twitter @MSStateAAS.

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Black Studies Conference flyer