By Nicole Webb
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY—Students of The Lincoln University, along with the help of Professor D. Zizwe Poe, are fighting for the university to welcome back a Black Studies major program.
Dating back to 1884, students of the university have demanded that the university offer Black Studies as a major in order to educate students on the advancement and experiences of the African culture. In 1884, Solomon M. Coles, a graduate of 1872, stated in an alumni magazine article that in order for Blacks to receive fair treatment, “[they needed] to know [their] own history.”
Since then, students and faculty alike have been advocating for the presence of such program as a part of the university’s curriculum.
“In 1969…Lincoln launched [its] Black Studies course, from 1969 until 1979,” reflected Poe, professor of History, Political Science, and Philosophy and current director of the university’s Black Studies minor. “[However,] affirmative action caused the decline for Black Studies. [Many] felt that there was no need for Black Studies and that there was no career choice in the study.”
In recent months, students have been advocating for the university to reimplement the program, which was last a part of the university’s academic curriculum during the late ’90s.
“Myself, along with a group of other students have been planning ways to resurrect our Black Studies program,” stated Andrea Carter, a History major and graduating senior. “We’ve held meetings, sat in on faculty meetings and even spoke on behalf of the program [at the NEH Symposium in March;] it’s a process that has been in the works.”
Despite student demand rising and help from faculty members such as Poe, the success of there being a Black Studies major program at the nation’s first HBCU seems to be experiencing slow progress.
“Blacks thought that after Obama, our problems were solved. [Truth of the matter is] our problems are still present [and] some are worst. With organizations such as Black Men In America, Queens Living Through Legacy, Swing Phi Swing, Groove Phi Groove, and even I.S.P.I.T. and J-Vibe, students are seeing that something needs to be done,” stated Poe. ”You have a conscious element coming up. Students have a regular appetite and [demand] for a pro-Black Studies prospective.”
In previous years, according to Poe, the controversy of bringing the program back to the university was that many believed that if students graduated from the university with a degree in the program, they would not be marketable.
“Folks that had never taken a Black Studies course [were] telling students that there was no need for it, because they don’t know what it is…they were asking, ‘What can you do with a black studies major,’” explained Poe. “We should be making them understand the Black contribution. If you have a Business degree and Black Studies major or minor, and then you go for a job with a major corporation that’s trying to break into the Black community, you have a better advantage at getting that position than someone from Harvard with a business degree.”
Both alumni and students alike are finding the absence of such studies a disservice to the university’s legacy and purpose of establishment, as Black Studies is the scientific study of people of African descent.
“…It’s really embarrassing to the university,” reflected Carter. “How can we teach our students Lincoln history but not teach them the history of the eras before 1854. We focus more on getting our students to graduate with a piece of paper, saying that they have completed the required courses, as opposed to really giving a sense of self worth to the students.”
“I feel as if the students here are being robbed blind,” stated Shaheem Jackson, a sophomore and member of the university’s Afrocentric activist organization Black Men in America. “It’s [unfortunate] that a university that receives most of its tuition from people of African descent do not offer the opportunity for [students] to learn more about their heritage.”
A 2013 graduate of the university and member of Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship Incorporated, Devante Caldwell, stated that the demand of a Black Studies major should be seen as an urgency to administration of the university.
“Such program should be a priority to help advance the knowledge of our kings and queens, especially if we really want them to realize their real potential,” said Caldwell.
Poe, however, does not view the absence of the Black Studies program as a disservice, but rather a missed opportunity on the university’s part.
“I find it as a missed opportunity as we could’ve recruited more students, if we had a niche that no other school could’ve competed with,” stated Poe. “We have [among] the most Pan-African student enrollment per capital, from the Caribbean, the U.S. and overseas. We have something that other programs couldn’t compete with: we are the only HBCU that has graduated two African presidents that are renowned, one known as the African of the millennium by Pan-Africanists everywhere. We’re not taking advantage [of that] and therefore, we’re missing out on enrollment and donor giving…the real disservice is that we don’t believe in the potential of our people.”
Despite the lack of progress, students are continuing to fight for the program.
“Students, such as the Black Studies Major Group, [BMA, QLTL, and the 35 students currently enrolled as Black Studies minors] are rallying together and planning for next year,” stated Carter. “We have planned [and] although a lot of us are graduating, we do have plans. This is not the end.”
“We must start caring about ourselves and our history; we must continue to fight and rally together until Black Studies becomes a major here at Lincoln,” argued Brianna McPherson, a junior and previous Black Studies minor who dropped the minor due to course curriculum conflict with her Mass Communications major.
Poe, who graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts, Master’s and Doctorate’s degree in Black Studies from San Jose State and Temple universities, envisions the future of the university with a Black Studies major and a center dedicated to renowned leader of Ghana and ’39 graduate of Lincoln, Kwame Nkrumah.
“If we created an Nkrumah center for Pan-African study and we had a Pan-African major, featuring the works of Nkrumah and Azikiwe, I believe we would become more attractive to a group of students that could pay [tuition] and/or attract those that have the grades, where we could provide money for them [through scholarships,]” stated Poe. “If we’re still trying to use education to try [and] get a job, then things haven’t really changed. We should be teaching how to build enterprise…[how to] build more churches, more schools, more businesses; that’s the education we should be giving. Studying the accomplishments and achievements of other blacks inspires us…”
In a recent meeting, current Board of Trustees chairwoman, Kimberly Lloyd, ’94, announced the establishment of a committee that will adhere to addressing students’ concern for establishing a Black Studies major at the university.
Black Studies, as a minor, will continue to be available for student enrollment. Students and faculty will continue to promote the awareness of Black Studies as a program and Introduction to Black Studies, a popular course taken by students, will be offered in the fall semester of the next academic year under the leadership of Poe.