UW News

April 14, 2005

Grant leads to expansion of African Studies

The UW’s African Studies Program, after years of fruitless search for stable funding, has snagged its first federal grant and announced an expansion of classes and outreach activity.

The $170,000, two-year grant from the Department of Education marks a turning point, said Lynn Thomas, the African Studies chair.

“This is the first time African Studies has ever received significant external funding,” Thomas said. “We were the only program in the Jackson School without that.”

A key goal, she said, will be to increase connections between the University and the Seattle area’s 16,000-strong African-born population – America’s 12th largest African immigrant community. An experiential learning coordinator will help UW students find internships and service-learning opportunities locally, as well as in Africa.

The grant also will better equip African Studies to serve the dozens of UW scholars doing work on the continent or related to it, ranging from AIDS researchers in Health Sciences, to Humphrey Fellows at the Evans School of Public Affairs.

At least a half-dozen undergraduate courses will be added, including third-year Swahili.

Anand Yang, the Jackson School director, said a vibrant African Studies program also could help draw more students from underrepresented minorities than have traditionally been attracted to the Jackson School.

“This is a fantastic development,” Yang said.

Thomas said she hopes to build a program that will be strong enough to take the next leap: securing renewable Department of Education Title VI support as a so-called national resource center, like the Jackson School’s East Asia, Middle East and other such area centers.

The new grant is being matched by support from the College of Arts and Sciences, Evans School of Public Affairs, Health Sciences, UW Libraries and the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences programs at UW Bothell and Tacoma.

African Studies at the UW has struggled with uncertain funding since the program was first proposed by faculty committee in the late 1960s. In recent years, Thomas said, an undergraduate minor was established and the program found a home at the Jackson School, but money shortages forced a six-month shutdown in 2003.

The new grant, she said, could lead to a sustainable future.

“This a crucial development for African Studies,” Thomas said. “It allows us to restructure, strengthen and expand the program.”