A Timeline of African American Studies at Puget Sound


As part of the of the press of the Civil Rights Movement, the first major success in the effort to include African American life as part of the curriculum and makeup of the University of Puget Sound campus came in 1967 with creation of the Black Student Union (BSU) and the development of a list of potential courses in Black Studies. Among those featuring prominently in these initial halting steps were African American students such as Al Roberts, Andy Lofton, Argie Rhymes, Buster Brown, Curtis Stovall, Charles Lowrey, Daisy Stallworth, Ed Horne, George Nealey, Henry Johnson, John Smith, Louis Smith, Regina Glenn, Renee White, Tom Hilyard, and Yvonne Watters along with Puget Sound professor Bill Baarsma. The BSU has continued since, but there was no significant curriculum development.

The first sustained development in the curriculum came in a movement toward an African American Studies program which emerged through the initiative of a small group of advocate faculty members, pressed by a particular threshold in contentions and activism among students, as a collection of courses, thoughtfully selected from already existing offerings in social science and humanities departments.  This was led by the founding advisory committee co-directed by Professors Hans Ostrom (English) and Bill Haltom (Politics and Government) with members Professors Nancy Bristow (History), Juli McGruder (Occupational Therapy), and Susan Owen (Communication Studies).  These are the Initiators. They were later joined by Professors Michelle Birnbaum (English), Ann Neel (Comparative Sociology), and Jac Royce (Theater).



Fall 2002 saw a turn to the hiring of the first dedicated faculty and the creation of the first courses specifically grounding the Minor in African American Studies, initiating the defining terms of the second movement. Dexter Gordon was hired in 2002 and Grace Livingston in 2003. This has been an expansive and energetic period; one of deliberative and deep processing and thinking, action and development in the name of longer-term commitments. It was during this period that African American Studies enacted and fought for its grounding in radical communitarianism, which Brenda Gayle Plummer links to the cutting edge moments in the building of African American Studies in the nation, with its insistence on “a vision of radical scholarship with communitarian objectives” seeking “to make knowledge available to publics outside the academy” to “close the distance between the university and the surrounding community” as fundamental to creating ethical modes of “intellectual life that connect engaged persons inside and outside universities.” In this period too, we developed an infusion conceptual model as a strategic way of allowing African American Studies to influence, connect with, give to and learn from the wider curricular, intellectual and civic life of the campus through active sharing of the ideas, literature, discourses and practices of the field, multiplying the entry points through which the program could interpret and be responsive to the broader disciplinary and institutional ground around us.

A particular hermeneutic demand gave rise to the work of Race and Pedagogy on the Puget Sound campus in the very momentum of formation of the second movement of African Studies. A Blackface incident of 2002 and three subsequent racialized incidents between 2003 and 2005 and the intersection of community response ignited a nexus for this emergence. The work of Race and Pedagogy was initiated in 2002 as the Race and Pedagogy Program. With the work of a range of faculty, staff, and students with local, regional, and national conferences as a centerpiece, the program grew into an Initiative. It is pivotal for us that at the heart of this work is the Race and Pedagogy Community Partners Forum. In this season, both the work of African American Studies and its related entity Race and Pedagogy evolved and grew in staffing, capacity, and outcomes. Both programs were assigned dedicated staff support.

As part of its intentional infusion efforts African American Studies faculty serve in various capacities across the Puget Sound campus at all levels of faculty service, leadership, and governance. African American Studies faculty in the Center for Writing Learning and Teaching (CWLT) is one example of the program’s commitment to its model of infusion. Here African American Studies faculty work alongside other CWLT faculty and staff to advise, train, mentor, and provide pedagogy that reflects African

American scholarship. Additionally, as part of the work of the Race and Pedagogy Initiative (RPI), an African American Studies Advisory Committee member serves on the university’s Wednesdays at Four planning team. Wednesdays at Four assembles teams of faculty, staff, and students to lead discussions primarily on teaching and learning, but often involving wider university concerns such as retention.

The African American Studies program has developed two student award programs, one for graduating students and the other for returning students to be awarded at the program’s commencement celebrations, another new feature. To date, members of the African American Studies Faculty Advisory Committee have funded the awards to jump-start an effort to enable a robust program to include scholarships and other programing opportunities for students and faculty.

In keeping with the program’ commitment to responsible social engagement, African American Studies faculty actively employ their expertise as part of their engagement with the broader community. For example, faculty served alongside community members in the leadership of the Tacoma Civil Rights Project. This effort included ongoing  participation and collaboration with several community organizations to undertake research, including student research, culminating thus far in a Featured Exhibition at the Washington State History Museum entitled, “Tacoma’s Civil Rights Struggle: African Americans Leading the Way.” The premiere run was August 18 through December 7, 2008 with an exhibition at the Northwest African American Museum, Seattle, Washington, February 5 – December 20, 2009. There was also a documentary film entitled, Transforming Tacoma:  The Struggle for Civil Rights, premiered at Washington State History Museum, September 5, 2008. The film was a finalist in the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) Government Programming Awards. African American Studies faculty’s work include development, leadership, and participation in a range of community organizations and initiatives beyond the campus at the local, state, and national level. The Conversation, the Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective, Pierce County Community Healthcare Alliance (PCHA), American Leadership Forum, Write 253, Project Peace, City of Tacoma, and the Northwest Leadership Foundation.

We express here our appreciation to the following faculty members who served on our Faculty Advisory Committee and have since moved on. These are Juli McGruder (Occupational Therapy, retired 2007), Jac Royce (Theater Arts, retired 2010), Bill Haltom (Politics and Government), Jeff Matthews (Business Leadership), and Steven Neshyba (Chemistry). Thanks as well to the team of faculty members who continued the work alongside Dexter Gordon and Grace Livingston: Susan Owen (Communication Studies), Nancy Bristow (History), Hans Ostrom (English), and Jim Jasinski (Communication Studies). Fall 2011 we welcomed Professor Ostrom’s appointment as a dedicated African American Studies faculty member with a two-thirds appointment, one-third English. We also welcomed our fourth dedicated African American Studies faculty member Renee Simms as a visiting assistant professor. Professor Simms was hired in a tenure track line in 2015. Additionally we welcomed to the Faculty Advisory Committee Professors Carolyn Weisz (Psychology), Robin Jacobson (Politics and Government), and Rachel DeMotts (Environmental Politics and Decision Making).


2016 - Present

With the launch of the major, fall 2016 marks a turn to the third movement in the African American Studies program. A major commitment for this third movement is the development of an endowed African American Studies Student Scholarship Fund.

Given its two-fold commitment to rigorous scholarship and responsible social engagement, African American Studies promotes among its students an orientation toward learning that functions organically and seamlessly across traditional lines differentiating classroom from community. The program seeks to provide scholarships for its majors to make possible their participation in programs that require travel and engagement in communities beyond the campus, including study abroad and community learning. Cost is often a prohibitive factor for participation in such activities for students who major in African American Studies. As it happens such engagement and experiential learning are part of a range of practices which are now identified as High Impact Educational Practices.

To provide such scholarships for students in the major, we propose an African American Scholarship Fund. This fund would enhance the two scholarship awards in the minor, and enable us to satisfy the commitment of the program. The scholarship award for graduating students in the minor is based on students’ overall performance in the classroom, on campus, and in the broader community. The award recognizes outstanding academic achievement including grade point average and classroom contribution. Such students excel both in African American Studies courses as well as in the broad spectrum of courses that make up a Puget Sound liberal arts education. Students are recognized for service to the immediate campus community and the extended community beyond the campus as a part of good academic citizenship. For returning students the award is based on the student’s promise and overall performance in the classroom, on campus, and in the broader community. The award recognizes promise as well as outstanding academic achievement including grade point average and classroom contribution.

For the long term the program proposes to work with the broader university’s campaign to seek an endowed faculty chair to enhance program stability and continuity.

Significantly, alongside the movement in African American Studies to a major is the transition of the Race and Pedagogy Initiative to the Race and Pedagogy Institute. The move from an Initiative to an Institute is constituted by a series of developments. First there is a the commitment of a cadre of faculty, staff, and students to an enduring relationship with Race and Pedagogy and its work, establishing the entity as a fixed facet of their ongoing professional intellectual work at Puget Sound. Second, unlike in its early days, the program now has committed staff person and a budgetary allocation for its ongoing work. Finally, Race and Pedagogy’s now established partnerships, projects, and vision that include its eleven-year-old Community Partners Forum, as well as its campus partnerships with students, staff, and faculty function as stabilizing features establishing the institutionalization and permanence of the venture. The program is governed by a director and associate director who are part of a leadership team working in consort with a faculty advisory committee and our Community Partners Forum to execute the institute’s goal of integrating the intellectual assets of the campus into a mutual and reciprocal partnership with local community experience and expertise to educate students and teachers at all levels to think critically about race and to act to eliminate racism.