Meet Princeton University’s First Department of African American Studies Cohorts – Your Black World

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By: Ryan Velez

Princeton University recently put out an article about its first lineup of concentrators who graduated in June. Part of the reason why this group of twelve students are the first of their kind is that when the Center for African American Studies was formed in 2006, students only had the option to earn a certificate in African-American Studies. However, in the fall of 2015, the University gave the department academic department status, making it possible to be a Princeton graduate majoring in African-American studies for the first time.

“I remain in awe of Princeton’s first class of concentrators in African American studies,” said Eddie Glaude Jr., the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and department chair. “Each student brought something unique to our department. They worked closely with our stellar faculty, who pushed them to think critically and to imagine themselves in the most expansive of terms. All of them were courageous enough to pursue their passion irrespective of assumptions about traditional majors.

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“These students will always be the first. Every time they return to Princeton or whenever people talk about the founding of the Department of African American Studies at this University, their names will be mentioned. They are our pioneers!” Glaude said.

So, what are some of these trailblazing set of cohorts like? The first on the list, Imani Ford, shares how she was the first in her family to attend college. “My mama somehow implanted the idea in me that it was possible, so I did have access to that dream and clawed my way to it.” Originally, she mentioned that she was planning to focus on religion as a major in order to “ask ontological questions about blackness.” However, when she saw that African-American Studies was an option, she quickly decided to switch gears. “I felt that majoring in AAS would give me access to a space where I could ask my questions about black existence and be validated in my care for it. I knew I would be able to do more interdisciplinary work and have interlocutors also engaging in questions about race.”

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For Rosed Serrano, she made a huge leap in switching from math to African-American studies, but said her decision was based on the fact that “in the math department I felt like a lot of the work was individual and I wanted to be in an environment where I was thinking through ideas with my peers. My interests also shifted so that heavily influenced my switch.” After graduation, she will be staying with Princeton, as communications coordinator in the Office of Religious Life.

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