Shaffer tapped as new interim leader of African American studies program

Donald M. Shaffer, Jr.

Under the guidance of a new leader, the African American Studies program at Mississippi State looks to capitalize on the program’s exponential growth throughout the past decade and deepen the university’s mission of diversity and inclusion.

An associate professor of English and African American Studies and a mentor to Shackouls Honors College presidential scholars, Donald M. Shaffer, Jr., will now add interim director to his list of duties at the land-grant institution. His new role began July 1.

Shaffer has been involved with the African American Studies program since its inception in 2008, the same year he joined the MSU faculty. AAS is an interdisciplinary curriculum leading to an undergraduate minor and offering a range of study opportunities in history, literature, politics and other aspects of black life and culture.

Shaffer said he is excited at the prospect of expanding “a robust African American Studies program at a southern, land grant institution like MSU -- in a state that is the veritable birth place of African American culture.”

Shaffer said he hopes to continue the growth of a program that “engages student interests on a wide variety of academic and social issues.”

“I want our AAS minors to pursue these important topics through interdisciplinary studies and research,” Shaffer said.

From the fall of 2008 when AAS classes typically enrolled about 10 to15 students, the introduction to African American studies course now “routinely fills to its enrollment capacity of 60 every semester,” Shaffer said. To meet the growing demand, the AAS program now offers two to three sections of AAS 1063 every semester, as well as sections in the summer.

“Honestly, when I ruminate on the important task ahead of me, I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Call [AAS] our ‘interdisciplinary field of dreams,’” Shaffer said.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Rick Travis said Shaffer is “highly regarded for his personal warmth and wit” and will play a very important role both in recruiting students and faculty to MSU.

“His student-centered attitude will serve him well as we look to grow the program and its role in preparing [AAS students] for life after MSU,” Travis said.

“Dr. Shaffer is a specialist in 20th Century African American Literature and a core member of the AAS program,” Travis said. “His research examines the social and historical construction of race in African American and Southern literature” and his public outreach efforts are expected to encourage the MSU community to reflect on issues “that unnecessarily divide us,” Travis said.
A Jackson native, Shaffer earned a doctoral degree in English in 2005 from the University of Chicago, a master’s degree in 1997 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and graduated magna cum laude in 1995 with an English degree from Jackson State University.

Shaffer’s research studies attempt to create links between authors whose literary works engage racial and identity politics in American culture. He is currently working on a book that examines the symbolic and social construction of whiteness in the literary works of Charles W. Chesnutt.

Shaffer recently co-edited “The Construction of Whiteness: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Race Formation and the Meaning of a White Identity” with David Roediger from the University of Kansas and MSU professor Stephen Middleton. His contribution, an essay entitled “Charles W. Chesnutt, Whiteness, and the Problem of Citizenship,” examines the intersection of racial categories and civic identity in Chesnutt’s novel “The House Behind the Cedars.”

Part of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, the AAS program now has three courses designated as part of the university common core, creating more programing on campus that promotes the university’s mission of diversity and inclusion. For graduate students, a concentration combining course work, teaching assignments and community engagement efforts leads to a certificate of completion from the program.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,200 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences and African American Studies may be found at or

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Sarah Nicholas | College of Arts & Sciences

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