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Penn State’s African Studies Program Explores Humanity’s Birthplace

Have you ever thought about studying the birthplace of humanity?

Penn State’s African Studies Program focuses on the continent of Africa by teaching its history, culture, geography, economics, politics, and literature. Students also learn about Africa in relation to the rest of the world. Despite its efforts, however, the department still suffers from resource scarcity.  

The African Studies Center has award-winning faculty who are committed to their classes and research, brought together by their shared passion for this great continent.

“They love what they do, and you’ll see it in their classrooms how they are committed to teaching and helping the students,” said Dr. Cheryl Sterling, director of the African Studies Program.

The African Studies Program is degree-granting. Students can choose to major or minor in African studies as well as choose from a plethora of certificates such as development and sustainability and literature, visual culture, and the arts. Other certificates that are still being developed include Africa-Asia studies and African in World History. 

“Not only is Africa the birthplace of humanity, but we will also start teaching you about all the different things that you need to know that attracts everybody to this continent,” Sterling said. “People don’t realize why is this continent is so important that all the major corporations are flocking to Africa.”

To complete the certificates, students are able to take African studies classes as well as many other classes around the university. In the African Studies Program, all majors are eligible for some level of scholarship.

The program is the perfect fit for people who are looking at the world more globally. The department aims to teach the students how Africa is emerging in the modern world and its importance in the current market.

“Africa has some of the wealthiest in terms of mineral wealth, and some of the poorest countries. But why are all these multinational corporations coming to this continent?” Sterling said. “Africa has wealth from oil to coltan. There’s gold, platinum, uranium…the continent is emerging in the markets.”

“Why is it being targeted for development by the Chinese? Why is the United States getting involved in the oil market? Why are countries taking the immense wealth but leaving the people poor? These are the questions students will start to understand and face in deeper levels.”

Even with all its efforts, the African Studies Program suffers from resource deprivation and has lost some of its space. In 2018, the program was displaced from its original location in Willard Building, disrupting the unit’s operational flow, as stated in an open letter to President Eric Barron. 

“We are almost being put in scenarios of competition with the other programs and departments, and it shouldn’t be that way. It appears almost like we’re competing for resources when we don’t need to,” Sterling said. “Just because the African American studies, African studies, the Africana Center are all Black people, we’re not the same. We’re different departments.” 

“We were allotted a certain amount of space. Suddenly one of our offices was given to the Africana Center for their administrative aid,” Sterling continued. “It’s like a hierarchy. We lose, and we’re always at the bottom of the hierarchy. There should be a better division of resources. Why do we need to lose in order for someone to gain?”

Even with all the difficulties, the African Studies Program offers a series of events such as weekly talks and a virtual forum which will bring the top scholars from all around the world who deal with the Global South issues. Other events include the Brown Bag seminar, where Penn State professors and graduate students share their work.

Sterling said her program works to bring students and educators from every field and subject area together to study Africa and explore the continent.

“Our program aims to be an umbrella to capture to help bring all of these people together,” Dr. Sterling said.

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About the Author

Renata Daou

Renata is a sophomore majoring in International Politics and one of Onward State's contributors. She's from Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil and no, she doesn't live in the middle of the Amazon forest. She likes learning new languages, reading, writing, and talking about the one time she went bungee jumping.
Follow her on Twitter @renatadaou to see her rant in Portenglish or e-mail her at [email protected] for serious inquiries.

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