African American Studies department to change name to Black Studies


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Crowe Hall. The African American Studies department’s name change aims to better reflect its work in understanding conceptions of race beyond regional and national boundaries.

Jessica Ma, Assistant Campus Editor

The African American Studies department will officially change its name to the Black Studies department in the next few months pending final approval by Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, according to a Thursday news release. 

The department’s new title aims to better reflect “the breadth of its scholarship and teaching,” according to the formal name change proposal. 

“African American Studies” is typically understood to center the U.S. But the department explores the formations of race and Blackness in places including Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, according to the news release.

“Our work is expansive, beyond national or regional boundaries, and the word ‘Black’ is what captures that reach,” sociology and African American studies Prof. Mary Pattillo said in the release. 

In 1968, more than 100 NU students took over the Bursar’s Office to protest racial discrimination and improve conditions for the Black students, leading to the creation of the department. In the original petition, protesters used the term “Black Studies,” which faculty noted in the name change proposal. 

Faculty voted unanimously to support the name change in April 2022. At the African American Studies department’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in May, faculty unofficially announced the change. 

A symposium, titled “Black to Front,” will celebrate the name change at the Block Museum of Art on Friday from noon to 6 p.m. The event will feature poetry, music and panels made up of faculty and students. Trinity College American studies Prof. Davarian Baldwin and culture and film critic Zeba Blay will deliver keynote speeches. 

“We expect our keynote speakers to be prominent in creating a compelling experience that stimulates more students to pursue Black Studies,” African American studies Prof. Barnor Hesse said in the news release. “This is one of the lessons we take from the Black global protests in 2020.”

Medill freshman Atarah Israel, who helped design publicity materials for the symposium, expressed gratitude for being part of an important moment in NU history. 

“I am honored to be a part of such a community here and globally whose resilience knows no end,” she said in the release. 

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Twitter: @JessicaMa2025

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