Research and Teaching Offer Insights on Racial Identity and Social Justice
The University’s distinguished program in African American Studies, founded in 1969, has been transformed into the Center for African American Studies, a research and teaching center that is home to some of the nation’s foremost African American studies scholars and is directed by Valerie A. Smith, the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature.
When announcing its launch, President Tilghman stressed the importance of African American studies to both scholarship and an informed understanding of American society. “Of all the challenges that confront America, none is more profound than the struggle to achieve racial equality and understand the impact of race on the life and institutions of the United States,” she said. She added that Princeton must contribute to the effort through “research that yields valuable insights into the nature of racial identity and social justice, and through education that trains new generations of leaders to solve problems that have persisted too long, both in this country and abroad.”
The center plans to focus on three areas: African American life and culture; comparative race and ethnicity; and African Americans and public policy. “These areas reflect our existing strengths and important new directions in the field,” said Smith, asserting that the center “will bring together an outstanding array of scholars, all committed to equipping students with the tools they need to think critically about race in both the national and global contexts.”
The center is drawing on the work of pathbreaking scholars in African American studies—such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values; Albert J. Raboteau, Henry W. Putnam Professor of Religion; and Cornel R. West *80, Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion—as well as a new generation of colleagues. These include Daphne A. Brooks, associate professor of English; Anne A. Cheng ’85, professor of English; Eddie S. Glaude Jr. *97, associate professor of religion; Melissa V. Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics; and Carolyn M. Rouse, associate professor of anthropology. The center will attract additional faculty members in these departments and recruit colleagues in conjunction with departments ranging from history to music.
Glaude said that Princeton’s enhancement of its African American studies offerings is an exciting development for the field as a whole. “It’s extremely important when an institution of Princeton’s stature announces a commitment to African American studies and says publicly that the subject matter of African American studies is constitutive of a Princeton education,” he said.
The center will establish new undergraduate courses, bring visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows to campus, and host two new lecture series. The Toni Morrison Lectures highlight new work by scholars and writers, while the James Baldwin Lectures celebrate the scholarship of Princeton faculty members. Smith has high expectations, aiming for it to be nothing less than “the best in the country.”