Seton Hall University touts its longstanding African Studies Program as “livelier and more relevant than ever, with engaging classes led by new and veteran scholar-activists.” According to the university, students at the New Jersey-based institution even have opportunities to expand their education with study-abroad options in Africa and the Caribbean as a part of the African Studies program, which is said to be the oldest in the state.
But according to students, the reality is a different story. “We came here hoping to get this education that’s offered online; it says, ‘Lively and thriving, Africana Studies, the first in New Jersey,’ you know, the first university to have it, and they’re not giving us the resources,” Elizabeth Tescum said.
The department’s sole faculty member left the program last fall, according to the student newspaper, The Setonian.
Students walked out of class in protest beginning on Wednesday to save the Africana Studies program. That walkout ended up turning into a sit-in at the office of the university’s president because students are accusing the school of false advertising for a program that has a shortage of faculty members, alleging that “only a limited number of students can attend and it’s often dropped because the school is not committed to the program.”
Protests at the university continued through the weekend. As the school newspaper reports, the Interim Director of Africana Studies and special assistant to the Provost, Reverend Forrest Pritchett, released a statement in support of the protests, now being called the “Protect AFAM” movement.
In an open letter, Pritchett wrote, “I stand in full solidarity with the demands of the Protect AFAM Collective and Movement, along with an unyielding demand for amnesty in them expressing their basic human right to protest for change.”
Students have also taken to social media with their protest, “Students deserve to be taught by professors steeped in the history of the African and the Black American experience. They pay for their education and have the right to participate in the programming and staffing of the AFAM department. Their voices must [be] heard, Seton Hall.”
Amidst the outcry, the university released a statement, “Seton Hall University enthusiastically supports the discipline of Africana Studies and underscores how vital it is for all our students, independent of their major field of study, to be able to learn about their (and other) cultures, histories, and identities.”
But Kelly Harris, a former director of the Africana Studies program at Seton Hall and now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, claims the school fails to support any courses that deal “with social issues. “If they really want to build a program, you have to have multiple faculty in there so you can offer the students a robust program.”
This isn’t the first time students at the university have protested —in 2018, a similar protest occurred when “a group known as the Concerned 44 held a demonstration at President’s Hall, taking over the campus site for several days. Their efforts resulted in responses to some of their demands, but none of the university’s promises ‘have seen meaningful longevity.”
This time around, the Protect AFAM Collective and Movement is asking for “the Catholic university to hire three or four full-time professors, hire a full-time tenured director for the program, reestablish Africana Studies as a department by next spring, and permit students to act as search committee liaisons with the ability to vote on hiring.”