If you talk with Indiana University’s Dr. Jakobi Williams about the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies (AAADS) within the College of Arts and Sciences, expect to hear the word “only” a lot. Williams, the chair of AAADS and the Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor in the Department of History recently shared the many things that make “AAADS truly distinctive from amongst the 17 other Ph.D.-degree granting African American studies departments in the country,” he said.
“In fact, if Ohio State can trademark the word the, our department is so unique we need to trademark the word only,” he joked.
First, Williams said, “AAADS is the only African American Studies department in the nation with an undergraduate living-learning community,” the Thomas I. Atkins Living-Learning Center (LLC), “which is run through Residential Programs and Services (RPS) and the department.” Atkins LLC is a residential space designed to bring students interested in common goals together, and encourages academic excellence through the study and expression of African American history and culture. In addition to being a residence hall, Atkins LLC includes dedicated facilities, staff support, and unique academic options. (IU Bloomington features 10 Living Learning Centers for undergraduates on campus, delineated by student interests.)
As a department, AAADS offers degrees “from the bachelor’s to the Ph.D.,” Professor Williams pointed out, and provides students a rich array of programmatic opportunities and myriad topics for study, research, and creative activity. The department’s mission is to create and share scholarship of the highest quality, considering the many dimensions of the African American and African diasporic experience.
This year the Big Ten Academic Alliance launched its annual meeting of Big Ten Departments of Africana Studies, and in this meeting AAADS was recognized as the model department for other Big Ten departments to emulate.
Further, noted Williams, “We’re the only African American Studies department that has as many dual degrees offered, providing 11 degrees, including five master’s degrees offered in conjunction with other IU departments,” said Williams. He also noted, “We’re the only department in the country offering a dual M.A./M.F.A. with our English department.”
“What drew me to AAADS is the integration of the arts into the curriculum,” said Taylor Ajéwole D. Duckett, currently a doctoral candidate at AAADS. “The department is unique in that students are able to join the African American Dance Company, the African American Choral Ensemble, or IU Soul Revue and receive course credit. I have been a member of the African American Dance Company for the past three semesters, and I have been able to gain valuable embodied knowledge that has been applied to my dissertation.” All these artistic ensembles are within the College’s African American Arts Institute (AAAI.) Therefore, undergraduate students can major and minor in these disciplines, while grad students can likewise pursue master’s degrees and doctorates.
IU Bloomington’s AAADS is also the only African American Studies department in the nation that offers a performing and creative arts degree, as well as traditional degrees. “If you study fiction, poetry, film, dance, music, performance studies, theater, and so on, you can earn a doctorate in our department,” Professor Williams said. Students also have the option to engage in more traditional studies like history and sociology, or may pursue opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary research and courses of study.
AAADS is “the only department in the nation that has a Globalizing Black Studies Initiative,” Williams said, “wherein, for example, we've created partnerships with universities in China and India, creating opportunities for faculty exchanges, student exchanges, and other work.”
He also noted with pride that AAADS is the only department of its kind in the nation with a joint Black Studies and Jewish Studies organization. AAADS partners with IU’s Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program to create programming and co-teach courses that take multidisciplinary approaches to the study of racism and bias, especially as it relates to “anti-Blackness and antisemitism we’ve experienced, and are experiencing, in this country,” Williams said.
Celebrating more than 50 years at IU, Williams noted “Our department is one of the oldest departments of its kind in the nation, and we were founded in 1970 as a result of the genius of people like Herman Hudson,” one of the first African American leaders at Indiana University and the founder of what was then IU’s Department of Afro-American Studies.
An inspired and inspiring leader, Dr. Hudson also helped launch programs at IU that showcased African and African American performing arts, which are now part of the College’s African American Arts Institute, “and remain connected to our department,” explained Williams. “Hudson also helped found the National Council of Black Studies,” noted Williams, to which Dr. Valerie Grim, Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at IU Bloomington and AAADS’ Director of Undergraduate Studies, was recently elected president.