Black Students, Black Studies: Education for Liberation
Pamela L. Ross
William E. Cross, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 1991 R825
vi, 68 leaves; 29 cm.
This thesis examines the Black student presence on predominantly white college campuses during the volatile years that followed Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination (late 1960s to early 1970s), and offers a historical reconstruction and sociological analysis of the origins and developments of those aspects of the Black student movement at Cornell University, that lead directly to the establishment of the Africana Studies and Research Center. The unique history of Cornell University's Black student protest illuminates the magnitude of the Black students' discontent with university curriculum. Much of the opposition to Black Studies may be derived from a lack of understanding of the Black students' motivation for education that would be specifically relevant to their lives. By analyzing the role of the Black students as the catalyst for the development of Black Studies it may be possible to gain insights into the past and present dilemmas that must be solved in order to strengthen Black Studies as a legitimate field of research and study.
Due to Cornell University's reputation as a nationally prominent and highly respected institution, a great deal of media coverage focused on the campus unrest caused by Black students. The media focused on the conflict and manifestations of discontent rather than delve into the underlying causes of the student protest. "Gun-toten", "fist swingin", "loud shoutin" militantly dangerous Black students were often portrayed in the media. White parents worried for the lives of their children who were subject to the "irrational" protests of "crazed" Black students. Administration attempted to meet the demands of Black students without ever compromising their traditionally conservative stance. After a great deal of struggle and negotiation, Black students secured many of their demands. Despite the obvious benefits of the reforms that Black students were able to bring about, there still remains a great deal of ambiguity in respect to the aim and justification of their tactics as well as the legitimacy of their demands.
There is much to be gained from an in-depth analysis of the Black Studies struggle from the student's perspective. By examining the many intricacies of the Black students' struggle for Black Studies, one can gain insight into the many oppressive barriers that Blacks face as they attempt to assert themselves as proud and independent people knowledgeable of their inherent self-worth and merit.
In literature that surrounds the development of Black Studies, scholars have debated nearly all facets of Black Studies including the structure, content, aim, definition, scope, relevance, criticism, etc. While it is typical to find that Black students are recognized for their demand for the inclusion of Black Studies in higher education, seldom is their role further analyzed. This leads one to wonder if the Black student's role in developing Afro-American Studies reaches beyond the Black student's role in developing Afro-American Studies reached beyond their initial demand.
Black Studies might be seen as one of the greatest legacies of the Black student movement. It grew out of the desire of Black students to use their education as a means of self-determination and social change. These students had a desire to maintain a strong link with their communities and culture which might easily be negated by predominantly white institution. In light of the lingering misunderstandings of the Black student protest, one can argue the necessity for a retrospective analysis of the origins, developments and achievements of the Black student movement. In critiquing the progress of Black Studies, one must take into account that Black students saw Black Studies as a means to rectify an otherwise inadequate education. Since these students were integrally involved in the development of Black Studies programs, it would be absurd to try to understand the development of the field divorced from its origin within the Black students movement.