African American Studies celebrating 10-year milestone

The African American Studies program is celebrating a decade of service and pride at Mississippi State University.

“It’s been really exciting to make an impact on students through our events and programs, and we look forward to furthering the university’s mission of fostering diversity and multiculturalism in the years to come,” said Donald M. Shaffer, MSU associate professor of English and African American Studies.

To kick off its yearlong celebration, the program is hosting two trailblazing figures of the 1960s African American Studies movement in higher education during the 2017 spring semester.

Taking place Monday [Jan. 23] in the university’s Colvard Student Union second-floor Bill R. Foster Ballroom, Irene Smalls’ and Vernon Smith’s presentations each will be moderated by Shaffer, who also is interim director of the program. A question-and-answer-session will follow both presentations.

Smalls, an award-winning author, historian and literacy entrepreneur, will present “(Re)Telling Our Story: Reading and Discussion.” A native of Harlem, New York, she holds a master’s in business administration from Cornell University. She a founding member and first president of her alma mater’s Black Alumni Association and its Wari House residence for undergraduate women of color. She initiated and directed the first sit-ins and demonstration that led to the takeover of Cornell’s Student Union, Willard Straight Hall. Smalls has penned 15 books for black children and twice has performed her stories by invitation at the White House. For more, visit

A native of Natchez, Smith will give a presentation titled “On Strike Shut It Down: The 1960s Call for Black Studies.” He studied journalism and radio-TV-film production at San Francisco State University (formerly College), and was a member of the Black Student Union and a participant in the student-led strike that led to the founding of the nation’s first Black Studies Department and School of Ethnic Studies. After completing the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1969, he began his journalism career as a reporter for the California Independent Press-Telegram. He worked as a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and won the Detroit Press Club Foundation’s annual magazine writing award for an article titled “Detroit’s Heroin Subculture.” He later became Newsweek’s Atlanta Bureau chief and a national correspondent.

Other springtime events include a Feb. 16, 2017, MLK Jr. Oratorical Speech Competition, and a March 28, 2017, Women’s History Month presentation by Rhonda Williams, founder and director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University. In addition to being founder and director of CWRU’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in African American Studies, Williams is the first African American to both earn tenure and achieve full professor in the history department at CWRU.

In the fall, the African American Studies program is planning to host a “Black Arts Movement in the South” event. Additionally, there will be a Black Studies Conference with a keynote address, film showing, as well as panel discussions featuring students and guest scholars and activists.

A complete schedule of events will be available at a later date. LaShundra Townsend, African American Studies administrative assistant, also may be contacted at 662-325-0587 and

Part of the College of Arts and Sciences, MSU’s African American Studies program offers courses leading to a minor in African American Studies. For more information, visit

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Sasha Steinberg | Public Affairs

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