I think that sense of home for me is a sense of belonging and learning about the history, the literature and the music. Finding things that I feel like I could actually relate to, that were part of me and part of my identity as a Black man was very pivotal.
As a younger student, Joseph Clark, ’22, G’24, sensed a disconnect in his education, especially the limited focus on the contributions of African Americans.
“African American history is American history,” said Joseph. “That was my biggest drive, just wanting to know more and feeling I never got the education I was looking for.”
Things changed when Joseph came to Bridgewater State University. A criminal justice major, he also found a home in the African American Studies program and minor, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary. He’s one of 49 students to graduate with the minor since its inception.
African American studies explores people of African descent in the United States. The minor includes an introductory course and significant flexibility, allowing students to pursue electives in music, English, history, physical education and other departments.
“You can take courses all around the university with a central focus on African American experience and culture,” said Dr. Emily Field, associate professor of English and coordinator of the program.
Thus far, faculty have created 13 new courses connected to African American studies, including the introductory course, which has been taken by more than 300 students. That class features a field trip to a play, museum or other destination.
The program also supports broader university efforts around racial justice that intensified in 2020 as protests swept across the country following the death of George Floyd.
“We already had this existing program working on these issues and a place for students to acquire an academic background in thinking through what race is and what its effect on our lives is and how it’s been structured over time,” Field said.
Joseph is now pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at BSU and working in the legal office for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. He hopes to work on rehabilitative and reentry programs as he did while interning for the Virginia nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration.
On campus, Joseph appreciated the connections he made between classes in the minor. He even started playing the saxophone after taking a jazz course taught by part-time music faculty member Gregory Conroy.
“I think that sense of home for me is a sense of belonging and learning about the history, the literature and the music,” he said. “Finding things that I feel like I could actually relate to, that were part of me and part of my identity as a Black man was very pivotal.”
The African American Studies program is celebrating its fifth anniversary with an event from 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 21 in Maxwell Library’s Heritage Room.
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