Written by Lucero Benitez, COSS Communications Specialist
As the Civil Rights movement began to come to an end in the late 1960s, African American student activists on various college campus across the nation began to push for courses that better represented them. At Fresno State, Africana Studies was offered under Ethnic Studies in 1973 but became its own program in 2003.
“The most unknown and interesting fact about Africana Studies on campus is that we have been here for about 50 years and was born out of the civil rights movement,” said Dr. Meta Schettler, Africana Studies, associate professor.
Dr. Schettler joined Fresno State as an assistant professor in 2000. Her interest on the subject ignited when she was a freshman in college and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After reading more on black writers, the civil rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and other issues of social justice, she knew she had found her passion. A big surprise to many is that she is Anglo.
“Race is constantly negotiated–even my voice as a white woman in black studies is constantly evolving. I feel as though this is a field for everyone,” said Schettler. “You don’t have to be black to be in black studies. We study both African American history, culture and the (African) continent but those struggles, both in the United States and the continent, relate to every struggle of marginalized groups and oppressed people.”
Schettler feels fortunate to teach courses on African American literature, South Africa, and American Inequality, a core writing class for the program. She is always optimistic that students care about those issues and hopes they can apply the lessons learned to their own lives.
“The main topics that we talk about like race relations, racial inequality, imperialism/colonialism–all of those relate to current issues that we have. Our course topics are more relevant, ever since Black Lives Matter, than they ever have been,” Schettler said.
Since 2000 when Schettler joined the Africana Studies Program, junior faculty were hired in 2008 and 2017, and multiple joint searches have been attempted to increase collaboration with other COSS departments.
The program was and continues to be a small program, but Schettler believes the wide range of topics discussed are interesting to many students on campus because they vary. Among them, courses related to African and African American culture that range from African Cultural Perspectives, The African American Experience: Black Men and the Search for Self-Liberation and even hip-hop.
Students learn about important people and events in the history of the African diaspora, and study Black history for the same reasons that Black History Month has been celebrated in February since 1970. The precursor to Black History Month began in 1926 with a one week celebration created by historian Carter G. Woodson, acclaimed author of The Mis-Education of the Negro.
Although there have been celebrations in the past, there is no specific celebration planned for 2019 in the Africana Studies Program at Fresno State because the topic is taught and celebrated year-round.
“Students created this program. We still want to serve their needs, this is their program. We are open to collaboration, community events, and service learning. We want to be a part of that, that’s the founding of our field and our discipline and existence in the university,” Schettler said.
There are 20 to 25 Africana Studies majors each year but Schettler wants students to know the program is a multidisciplinary field and applies to everything. It’s about cultural competency and learning lessons from Black History to be more engaged and increase engaged democracy.
“I feel as though there’s not awareness of well-known people who were Africana Studies majors. Former first lady Michelle Obama had a double major which included Africana Studies. It doesn’t have to be the end goal of your career path, it can still be part of your growth as a person,” Schettler said.