Why Study with the Department of African American Studies?

The Department of African American Studies is a department made up of a dedicated faculty, a diverse student body, and a commitment to our motto, “ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY”. Within the AFRO department, our faculty members teach courses on African American history, art, culture, health, music, gender, and so much more. Each of our classes is dedicated to enriching our University of Illinois students’ knowledge of the history and cultural composition of America.

African American Studies is a field that systematically explores the life and culture of African American peoples and their African Diaspora relationships, patterns, and ties.  Those who major in African American Studies will learn about the historical, political, ideological, legal, social, artistic, and economic issues affecting African Americans.  They will learn about the dignity-affirming struggles of African American people to have their humanity acknowledged, valued, and understood.  The achievements of African Americans have been tremendous and widespread. 

When students or parents ask, “What can you do with an African American Studies degree?" I challenge a rethinking of the question:  What can’t you do with this degree?  It is a passport to global citizenship.  Our alumni find satisfaction in the work they do after leaving the university and our students enjoy being a part of the AFRO academic body—learning, contributing, and progressing. 

When we look to the notable individuals who earned African American Studies degrees, it becomes much clearer that the value of the degree is not based solely on the size of the department or the number of degrees given each year. It is the value of one's capabilities—the ability to do the work one loves in meaningful ways. The list of those who received degrees in African American Studies goes on to include doctors, lawyers, entertainers, politicians, astronauts, professors, journalists, engineers, artists, poets, business executives, media entrepreneurs, and more. Consider the following list of individuals who have made a tremendous difference in their careers after studying with an African American Studies department:

  • Mae Jemison, astronaut and first woman of color to travel into space;
  • Sanaa Lathan, actress;
  • Thelma Golden, museum director;
  • Angela Bassett, Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actress;
  • Aaron McGruder, political cartoonist;
  • Gloria Naylor, novelist;
  • Lisa “Sista Souljah” Williamson, rapper and activist;
  • Judge Richard Roberts, lawyer and judge;
  • Carl Andrews, former New York senator;
  • Vince Carter, professional basketball superstar;
  • Anita Wells, clinical psychologist;
  • Marc Morial, director of the Urban League; former New Orleans mayor and senator;
  • Rochelle Brown, producer of “Emeril Live”;
  • Nicole Childers, executive producer of National Public Radio (NPR);
  • Ethelbert Miller, poet, author, and professor;
  • Jill Nelson, novelist and freelance journalist;
  • Antoinette Jackson, Habitat for Humanity board chair;
  • Peter Bouckaret, emergency director for Human Rights Watch;
  • Joseph Brown, catholic priest, author;
  • Cheryl Sanders, pastor of Third Street Church in Washington, DC.

We encourage students from all disciplines, cultures, and backgrounds to enroll in our classes and choose our department as a major or minor. The academic field is full of interdisciplinary work and has a vast range of opportunities for anyone’s interests.

Come visit our office if you would like to learn more about what AFRO has to offer and how you can join us in the work we love at the Department of African American Studies.