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The Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies - History, Mission, and Philosophy

The Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies (formerly Black and Puerto Rican Studies) was established in 1969 after Black and Puerto Rican students combined their struggle to have courses relative to their experiences and cultures offered at Hunter College. Their effort was part of the larger historic Black initiated and led "Civil Rights" or "Freedom" Movement in the United States.

In New York, the renewed sense of community and culture was strengthened by nationalist sentiments of Puerto Ricans who migrated to the city often in opposition to the U.S. colonization on the island. Black and Latino students formed a variety of organizations that worked with other segments of their communities. Also, the sit-ins and arrests of the early 1960s led to the voter registration of the late 1960s, as activists began to comprehend the deeper economic and political implications of the movement they had initiated.

By 1968-69, African American and Latino communities were questioning the lack of inclusiveness and relevance of what their children were learning in school, and denouncing the poor quality of instruction. They became convinced of the need for bilingual education, a curriculum that included their historical and cultural experiences, and community control of the elementary schools. At the university level, student struggles resulted in the creation of departments of Black, Chicano, and Puerto Rican studies, which were staffed by scholars in various disciplines (history, political science, psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, education, languages and literatures) who shared the commitment to a racially and ethnically just society.

An appreciation of the activist spirit of the 1960s and 1970s to social justice issues is essential to an understanding of the philosophy, objectives, and mission of the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Hunter College. In New York City in 1968-69, coalitions of African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and many others throughout CUNY petitioned, picketed, sat-in, and took over campuses to make the public aware of the fact that the University, which had been established to serve the city's working class more than a century before, was reneging on its mission. Their struggle was to transform the institution in three critical areas that would benefit both CUNY and the city.

  1. Open Admissions (i.e., a guaranteed placement in the CUNY system for every NYC public high school graduate who wanted a college education) 
  2. Academic and counseling support for low income students, to help make their dream of a college education a reality 
  3. Black and Puerto Rican studies departments, to provide excellent curricula and teaching in the humanities and social sciences, as they pertained to the African and Puerto Rican diasporic communities

In the spring of 1969, widespread support for a student strike forced Hunter College to close down before the semester's end, and in the fall of 1969 the Department of Black and Puerto Rican Studies was established, along with the Academic Skills (SEEK) remediation program. From these beginnings we inherited an important legacy and a unique mandate. Our legacy is defined by the struggle against exclusion in the academy and the nation. The department's combined focus on Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino studies is unique in the nation. This focus underscores a commitment to the mandate to help transform the curriculum and objectives of higher education by developing a new discipline that incorporates the perspective of the excluded "other", and by forging links between the College and the communities we study.

The department has been at the forefront of the development of Africana Studies and Puerto Rican Studies since its beginning. The late Dr. John Henrik Clarke, a scholar in Pan-African history and the premier historian of the Africana Studies Movement, was the first African-American hired in the department. Dr. Clarke (later Professor Emeritus), whom students loved and revered, helped establish our reputation for excellence and involvement at the "cutting edge" of Africana Studies. The foundation laid by Dr. Clarke is being built upon by the Africana Sequence's dedicated faculty members through their innovative teaching and research. In Puerto Rican/Latino Studies, the department's renowned scholars have played key roles in theoretical advances in the field that have had an impact in the United States and Puerto Rico. Also, they have been successful in incorporating the perspectives of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America, while underscoring the uniqueness of the United States-Puerto Rico relationship. As a group, the faculty has contributed to the general advancement of pedagogy and scholarship by engaging students in a holistic and integrative approach to study and knowledge, and by encouraging the application of research to the resolution of community problems.

A crucial mission of the department is the opening of the historical, literary, and cultural canon that has dominated Western education, by documenting the extent to which disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and history are intimately bound to the European experience in which they were incubated.  Central to this endeavor is a re-evaluation of the analysis of the ideology, process, and repercussions of Europe's colonization of the peoples of Africa and the Americas. This work has influenced the integration of race, gender, and class in the core courses across the curriculum at Hunter College, and has enabled the college to meet its "pluralism and diversity" requirements. Our department has provided a model for recent changes in the college distribution requirement, since all of our courses are designed to offer a "non-Western" perspective that acquaints students with alternatives to theories that have enjoyed unchallenged authority.

The respect that our faculty and students have earned results from the national recognition of our scholarship and teaching, the positive impact we have had on the discussions about multicultural education, and the culmination of years of hard work on numerous college and university committees. Despite the disadvantages that a small faculty and meager resources represent, a high level of productivity is evidenced in our continued development of new courses and in the growing class enrollments. Our students represent the rapidly expanding ethnic and racial groups currently residing in New York City. Our majors demonstrate academic excellence. Almost 60% of the graduate and majors have a GPA of 3.0 or better.

Fundamental to our mission is the goal to remain sensitive to our students' needs as we stress the importance of improving their skills, and of striving to achieve goals that foster equity and are personally rewarding. This requires us to be available for academic and personal counseling, particularly in these times of rising tuition, larger classes, and diminished course offerings. Our department has gained a reputation for a sustained commitment to excellence in scholarship and character. We recognize that the faculty grow as students learn, and that each group must inspire the other to make its collaborative vision a reality.

Academic Commitment

The Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies will continue to provide new approaches to the history, culture and politics of Africans and peoples of African descent throughout the world, as well as of Puerto Ricans and people of Latino heritage in Puerto Rico and in the United States. As such, the department will seek to increase the number of full-time faculty members and will continue to focus on the modification of our curriculum offerings. This restructuring initiative is aimed at strengthening and enhancing the department's basic philosophy: to foster a greater understanding of the historical and cultural achievements of the peoples studied in our multidisciplinary curriculum; as well as to explore in depth their resistance to systemic racism, colonial exploitation, enslavement, and oppression.

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