College receives competitive grant to pilot Western Humanities course centered around black studies

Associate professor of history and co-chair of the black studies program Catherine Adams (pictured above) teaches a section of the HIST 249: History of the Constitution class. A humanities course centered on black studies will soon be offered for students to take next year (Malachy Dempsey/managing editor).

The college received a grant from the Modern Languages Association to construct a humanities course that would explicitly focus on black studies. The course will likely be held in the fall of 2019 and will be taught by professor of English and co-chair of the black studies department Maria Lima, according to associate professor of English and Director of the Center of Integrative Learning Lytton Smith.

The black studies faculty are currently developing the course, which the College Senate will reviews and decide whether or not to approve, Smith said. Regardless of how the course will officially look, Smith believes it will represent an alternative to the standard curricular offering. 

“What we’re looking to do is to make sure that the texts that aren’t normally visible in terms of the story of Western humanities are put into conversation,” Smith said. “We’re looking at sort of the wider tradition of black thought and black culture, allowing students to synthesize that with texts that they may be familiar with from the humanities curriculum.” 

Geneseo was one of five schools out of 80 applicants to receive a grant from the MLA, according to Smith. The college will use much of the $3,000 grant to train faculty in digital technologies they would use to create an innovative course, such as the Geographical Informational System. 

Another portion of the money will go to a workshop to encourage professors interested in black studies to develop their own courses.

Smith spoke about how the format of humanities could open students up to topics they haven’t previously been exposed to. 

“Humanities has always been a great location for students to cross disciplines,” Smith said. “What does it mean to think of the history of Western civilization from the perspective of those who were really excluded from it, whether that’s people of color, whether that’s women, whether that’s trans and queer identities.” 

By expanding the scope of what humanities covers, Smith feels that a course focused around black studies reflects a collective reconsideration of what matters. 

“I think faculty are constantly engaging in questions about whose story is getting told … Geneseo has a long history of rethinking curriculum to match changing times,” Smith said. “The question of whose story is getting told, whose humanity is that, seems like a really important one for any academic institution to be engaging with.” 

Business administration major junior Frank Tortorici applauded the plan to offer a different type of humanities course.  

“I think this is a great idea,” Tortorici said. “I’m happy the school is doing it.”

Biology major freshman Malina Deis similarly feels that the pilot course could open people up to different ideas. 

“This is a great plan since it opens up students to concepts that they probably haven’t thought of as much before,” Deis said. “Especially with everything that’s happening with the Trump administration, I think it’s important to think about other people’s lives.” 

Smith highlighted the role that the curriculum generally plays in students’ college careers. 

“I’m really hopeful this is exciting to students. The general education curriculum is there for students. If students ever feel that’s not the case, that’s when we want to hear from them and figure out how we can better communicate the value of it or—if it’s not valuable to students—how we can revise it,” Smith said.