Program News & Updates, Fall 2019
Service Learning in South Africa
This year’s study abroad took place during the summer mini-term. As usual, it garnered life-changing experiences for those in attendance. Next year will be even better. Contact Amadou Sall at email@example.com for additional information.
Africana Studies Visiting Lecturer
Kimberly Eison Simmons, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina and interim director at the Institute for African American Research, visited UT thanks to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Visiting Faculty Travel Grant Program.
In her lecture, Professor Simmons explored the natural hair movement taking place in the Dominican Republic where women view natural hair as a sign of beauty, resistance, and personal expression of Afro Dominican-ness. Having straight hair is often the norm and is promoted in print and television media as the standard of beauty and definition of what is socially acceptable in Dominican society. This is changing as the natural hair movement gains momentum in the Dominican Republic and represents a significant and symbolic shift signaling changing views of Afro-Dominican identity where hair straightening has served as a symbolic erasure of African ancestry. Her lecture highlights the ways in which Dominican hair stylists, activists, and others organize around and embrace natural hair as an expression of Blackness and belonging to a larger African diaspora community.
Here in the United States, embracing curls, natural hair, and the Afro, is an ongoing reconstruction of racial identity in relationship to hair. The stereotypical views associated with afros, braids, dreads, and just natural curly hair continue to cause controversy for some. Simmons encourages us to remove the historical negativity concerning natural hair and simply embrace the beauty.
Truth Without Tears
Earlier this year, Professor Carolyn R. Hodges and Professor Olga M. Welch, former dean of the School of Education at Duquesne University, presented a lecture to graduate students about shared experiences based on their new book, Truth Without Tears: African American Women Deans Share Lessons in Leadership.
The book is a timely and insightful portrait of Black women leaders in American colleges and universities. As former deans, Hodges and Welch draw extensively on their experience as African American women to account for both the challenges and opportunities facing women of color in educational leadership positions. A nuanced and complex depiction of successful leadership, Truth Without Tears is a valuable resource for current and aspiring higher education leaders.
Concerning the Diaspora
Kristen Block, associate professor in the UT Department of History, presented “Countering Fears of Corruption: ‘Leprosy’ and Healing in the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora of the 18th Century” as part of the fall 2018 symposium speaker series.
A historian of the interactions between Africa, Europe, and the Americas (ca. 1492-1833), Block writes about the Caribbean, arguably the epicenter of colonial competition in the early modern Americas. Her research dwells on how Caribbean residents defined disease, contagion, and how conflict and hybridity affected their attempts at healing. Professor Block pushes the limits of conventional historical methods to capture the emotions and voices of historical subjects, many of them marginalized because of their sex, class, or enslaved status.
Gustavo de Oliveira Bicalho, Fulbright visiting researcher, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, presented “Freedom Authors of the African Diaspora in the Americas” during the spring 2019 lecture series.
What we understand today by the universalized concept of freedom was widely shaped by the memories of those who lived through the trauma of slavery while fighting for individual and collective emancipation. The African-American tradition of the so-called slave narratives tell only a part of this transnational struggle.In his presentation, Bicalho drew on the theme of freedom through the individual biographies and texts of the Afro-Brazilian writer Luiz Gama and the transatlantic figure of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, both of whom became involved with local abolitionists while developing their own expanded ideals of liberty and racial equality. Bicalho showed how they became authors of their own liberated lives by mobilizing a network of patronages and influences, while advancing their own aspirations, desires, and worldview.