WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — There’s something new happening at Wake Forest University. It’s a new program teaching students valuable lessons in history and humanity that they’re already using to make the community around them a better place.
“I really enjoy learning material that challenges me as a person, not just intellectually but also my morals and seeing who I am and what my beliefs are,” said sophomore Olivia Snow.
Snow plans to major in International Affairs and minor in African-American Studies.
“It invites me to think in different ways that I’ve never thought of before,” she explained.
Professor Corey D.B. Walker is the director of the program. The university launched it in July thanks, in large part, to an anonymous $1 million donation.
“In many ways, African American Studies is a discipline in the academy that will contribute to enhancing human knowledge and understanding and provide new opportunities for us to respond to some of the deepest pressing issues of our time,” Professor Walker said.
That includes race, racism, and race relations. Combining disciplines like history, English, and politics to name a few, he says African American Studies provides students with a community of conversational partners not only on campus but in the community.
“And as we face some of the tensions around race, around political tensions, as well as deep inequalities in our society, African American Studies equips our students with the knowledge, ideas, and understandings such that they may contribute to these public conversations and contribute new ideas born out of those experiences to then create new understandings that can hopefully encourage individuals to speak across lines of difference to engage those deep ideas that continue to thwart our aspirations for a deep democracy,” he said.
It’s not just for nor does it only impact Black people.
“It’s looking at how Black people relate to the world, but also how the world and larger communication, media, politics, relate back to us, which I think is really important,” Iyana Trotman said.
Like Snow, Trotman is a sophomore. The two came to Wake Forest in the summer of 2020 as protests for racial justice and equality roared around the country.
“I think the events of 2020 with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, coupled with Donald Trump’s election and Joe Biden’s election, I think a lot of times Black Studies is helping us contextualize what it means for these kinds of politics to happen and these kinds of shifts in policies and movements to happen,” Trotman said.
“I’m in a suite with six girls, five other girls, and sometimes we just sit down and start talking about my class and start talking about race and start talking about the things that we know, the things we don’t know, the things we don’t understand as white women. And so I’ve learned to hold on to my beliefs but also question them,” Snow said.
The primary focus of the new program at Wake is the cultures, knowledge, and expressions of people who are descended from Africa in the southern U.S. and their global reverberations. Professor Walker says what they’re building is a reflection of how Wake sees itself as an anchor institution.
“So our students learn about the deep and rich histories of African Americans in Winston Salem and Forsyth County and North Carolina. Most importantly, we’re also developing new programs for our students in the summer as well as community partners to begin to engage African American Studies such that we can be of service to our broader community,” he said.
Walker previously served with Winston-Salem State University’s College of Arts, Sciences, Business, and Education.
He’s also taught at the University of Virginia, Brown University, Virginia Union University, and the University of Richmond.