50th Anniversary of the Africana Studies Program

During November 1–3, 2019, the Larry A. Mamiya Memorial Conference commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Africana Studies program with a conference, “Africana Studies and the Future of Freedom.” The event featured noted scholars, current and former faculty and staff, and current and former students—including some who helped create the program 50 years ago. Read more

Friday, November 1
3:00pm
Check-in for Conference

Villard Rm, Main Building, 2nd floor

4:00pm
Tribute to Larry H. Mamiya and remarks by Stacey Floyd Thomas ’91, Associate Professor of Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Divinity School followed by a performance of the UJIMA Singers

Villard Rm, Main Building, 2nd floor

4:20–6:10pm
Directors’ Panel: “Between Reparations and Resilience”*

The conservative mantra of “personal responsibility,” which discouraged progressive policy intervention by the US government in the late 20th century, shows signs of dissipating with the rhetoric around reparations—while it enjoys primacy among nation-makers in the rest of the globe. Are scholars and students of Africana Studies to make anything of this disjuncture, if indeed one exists? See full description.

Moderator: Blanche Bong Cooke ’89, the Robert E. Harding Jr. Associate Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law

Panelists: Quincy Mills (History), Zachariah Mampilly (Political Science), Joyce Bickerstaff P ’86 (Education), Milfred Fierce (Emeritus)

6:15pm
Cocktail Reception

Rose Parlor, Main Building, 2nd floor

7:00–8:00pm
Opening Address

Villard Room, Main Building, 2nd floor

Saidiya Hartman (Comparative Literature-Columbia), MacArthur Genius Fellow, and author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval Moderator and Interlocutor: Mia Mask, Professor of Film, Vassar College

8:30pm
Reading by Shona Tucker, Associate Professor and Chair of Drama

“Growing Wild”

Class of 1951 Reading Room, Thompson Library

Directors’ Panel: “Between Reparations and Resilience”

(Full description of the Friday afternoon panel)

Since 1989, Representative John Conyers has appealed to his colleagues in Congress annually to begin investigating the prospects of the United States instituting a reparations program that would remedy the exploitation of African slaves during the country’s antebellum period and the social persecution and discrimination that U.S. blacks have endured since the practice’s abolition. For almost 30 years, Conyers’s appeals have failed to gain traction. However, due to the persistent clamor from black intellectuals supporting the initiative—namely Randall Robinson, William Darity, and Ta-Nehisi Coates—the idea of reparations has emerged as a debate item within the Democratic Party as it seeks to nominate a presidential candidate for the 2020 election.

Beyond U.S. borders exists an equally vibrant discourse that seems to counter the local one about reparations. Eminently popular among governance theorists and state-builders is the idea of cultivating resilient societies and peoples. Resilience, a concept that, according to Jonathan Pugh, champions “self-organizing adaptivity” and “empowering subjects to make life choices that better enable them to adapt to the conditions of their lives,” aims to chasten governments seeking to institute progressive systemic change for their nations. This framework, Pugh observes, “is not fundamentally about challenging unequal socio-economic relations, but rather about creating resilient subjects.” On the surface of things, U.S. and international discoursers find themselves functioning at cross purposes.

The conservative mantra of “personal responsibility,” which discouraged progressive policy intervention by the United States government in the late 20th century, shows signs of dissipating with the rhetoric around reparations—while it enjoys primacy among nation-makers in the rest of the globe. Are scholars and students of Africana Studies to make anything of this disjuncture, if indeed one exists? Should we view these developments from a temporal lens? Is the United States or African Americans making progressive political headway in ways that other nations and other facets of the African Diaspora remain unable to achieve? Are reparations a sign of U.S. blacks’ new orientation toward the idea of liberalism? What factors have seemingly allowed adaptability to become a necessary idea abroad?

Saturday, November 2
9:00pm
Check-in for Conference

Taylor Hall 102

9:30–11:15am
“What the Dark Past Has Taught Us”

Taylor Hall 102

The panelists will discuss intellectual and political legacies that point to the project and promise of freedom and its futures in Africa and the African diaspora.

Moderator: Samson Opondo, Political Science, Vassar College

Panelists: Lewis Gordon (Philosophy), Nisrim Elamin (Anthropology), Sherie Randolph (History)

11:30am–1:15pm
“When They See Us”

Taylor Hall 102

How do words and witnessing work against the grain of structural isolation? This panel considers if and how black bodies and lives register in our experience. What forms of representation map out routes of healing, survival, and care?

Moderator: Jasmine Syedullah, Assistant Professor, Africana Studies, Vassar College

Panelists: Jemma Decristo ’08 (Sound Studies), Glenda Carpio ’91 (English), Monica Ndounou (Theater)

1:30pm–2:30pm
Alumnae/i Mingle and Lunch

(for alumnae/i, panelists, and faculty)

2nd floor, Gordon Commons (formerly ACDC)

3:00–4:45pm
“The Futures of Freedom”

Taylor Hall 102

This panel reflects on the futures of freedom in light of new struggles and new political projects. Panelists address issues ranging from anti-blackness to critiques of U.S. empire.

Moderator: Tyrone Simpson, Department of English, Vassar College

Panelists: Silvio Torres-Salliant (English), Keisha Khan Perry (Anthropology), Lester Spence (Political Science)

5:30pm
Matthew Vassar Lecture and Keynote Address

Villard Rm, Main Building, 2nd floor

Aminatta Forna (Novelist)

Introduction: Ismail Rashid, History, Vassar College

7:00pm
Dinner and Dance

Alumnae House

Sunday, November 3
10:30am
Jazz Brunch

Zamir Birnbach Trio (Class of 2020)

Alumnae House

Videos

Alumnae/i, students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered for the Larry H. Mamiya Memorial Conference Celebrating 50 Years of Africana Studies at Vassar College in November 2019. Two alumnae who participated in the occupation of Main Building in 1969, widely credited for helping to secure support for the college’s Black Studies program (now Africana Studies), talk about the civic action.
Abrianna Harris ’21 interviews Vassar alum and Harvard University Professor Glenda Carpio about her book, Laughing Fit to Kill (2008), and her criticisms of the work of Kara Walker and Robert Colescott.
Part 2 of Abrianna Harris’s interview of Vassar alum and Harvard University Professor Glenda Carpio about her book, Laughing Fit to Kill (2008), and the challenges that come with doing critical work on slavery and its texts.
Kiah Matherson discusses with Syracuse University Professor Silvio-Torres Salliant the need for future work in Africana Studies to correct the lies the colonial period produced about people of African and Indigenous descent.
Keynote remarks by 2019 Macarthur Genius Fellow Saidiya Hartman, author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals. Her keynote is followed by a roundtable discussion between her, Professor Diane Harriford (Sociology), Professor Jasmine Syedullah (Africana Studies), and Karina Norton ’21.
Ruby Brown ’20 interviews historian Sherie Randolph about her her work on the life and thought of the black feminist radical lawyer, Florence Kennedy.
In an interview with Saredo Ali ’22, Professor of Philosophy Lewis Gordon discusses the ethical implications of Africana musical styles. He argues here that we can see music as “the great allegory of democratic society.” The interview was filmed by Lena Stevens ’21.
Professor Jasmine Syedullah’s new course, “On Mattering” (Fall 2020) responds to summer conflicts over police brutality and structural racism. Syedullah and her students explore the prospects for coalition building, prison abolition, and producing a community of care.