The Pan-African Studies program at Drew celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Its origins, however, are more complex than this singular milestone suggests. The program was almost two decades in the making and promoted by a somewhat unexpected standard-bearer.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s student activists on college campuses called for more African-American faculty and courses on the history, culture, and politics of black Americans. At Drew, the student group Hyera petitioned for such changes. It was Joan Steiner – a British literature professor – who stepped in to chair the Black Concerns Committee. By 1974 Steiner had introduced the first Afro-American literature course at Drew and, in the process, became enamored with the work of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Alice Walker.
The African-American and African Studies minor ultimately launched at Drew in 1993. From the beginning it has epitomized the liberal arts in its cross-disciplinary study of Africa and the African diaspora. Over the years, it has included courses taught by a Who’s Who? of Drew’s faculty: history with Charles Wetzl , John von der Heide and Lillie Edwards; literature with Joan Steiner, Kristine Aurbakken, and Geraldine Smith-Wright; anthropology with Phil Peek and economics with Fred Curtis. These days, the Pan-African program is part of the cultural and intellectual fiber at Drew with campus-wide programming such as the Ubuntu Choir.
In 2011, Drew received over one million dollars from the estate of Professor of English Emerita Joan Steiner for the Library, part of which was designated to scholarly resources for the Pan-African studies program. The most significant acquisition so far is the Black Studies Center. This web gateway provides Drew students and faculty with access to scholarly essays and periodicals, as well as a video collection of interviews with contemporary African-Americans such as Angela Davis and Isaac Hayes.
“When we look at how far Drew has come in creating a more diverse campus, we must remember and celebrate Joan’s legacy as a leader in this change,” suggests Lillie Edwards, director of the Pan-African studies program. “Joan’s legacy continues not only in the curriculum, but also in her gracious and generous gift to the African-American collections at Drew.” –Barbara Perkins P’09