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Forty Years at Vassar College: Africana Identities in the Diaspora



SUMMARY: The Africana Studies Program will mark the anniversary of its founding with the conference, “Forty Years at Vassar College: Africana Identities in the Diaspora,” 4/17-20. Weekend-long events will include lectures, panel discussions, and an exhibition.


PUBLIC CONTACT: Office of Campus Activities, (845) 437-5370; Patricia Mathis, Administrative Assistant for the Africana Studies Program, (845) 437-7490,


POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – In 1969 the Africana Studies Program at Vassar College was founded through the efforts of students and employees who sought greater academic and social diversity on campus, and to make permanent the burgeoning department of Black Studies.


Forty years later, Africana Studies remains the first and longest-running multidisciplinary program at the college, and remains committed to social justice. In commemoration, the program will host “Forty Years at Vassar College: Africana Identities in the Diaspora,” a weekend-long conference from Friday, April 17 through Sunday, April 19. Bestselling social justice advocate and author Randall Robinson will give the keynote address on Saturday, April 18, at 6:00pm. The lecture is free and open to the public.



“Forty Years at Vassar College: Africana Identities in the Diaspora” has been made possible with generous support from Lynai Jones ’92 and Roosevelt and Paula Williams Madison ’74, with additional support from the Office of the Dean of Faculty. For additional information on the conference, including a complete schedule and a formal invitation, contact Patricia Mathis, the administrative assistant for the Africana Studies Program, at (845) 437-7490, or at


Through panel discussions and presentations, the conference will explore the political and intellectual roots of Africana Studies and related programs in the United States, as well as the global Africana intellectual project, the specific trajectory of the program at Vassar, and the future of other disciplines, departments, and programs relating the experiences of peoples of African descent in the 21st century.


Highlights include:


--Randall Robinson, founder of the international non-profit group TransAfrica and author of An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, will deliver the keynote address and 2009 Matthew Vassar lecture on “Haiti, President Obama, and the African-world Psyche,” on Saturday, April 18, at the Taylor Hall Auditorium (Room 102), at 6:00 p.m.


--Panel discussions on a wide range of topics—featuring professors from institutions including University of Chicago, Wesleyan University, Rutgers University, and Middlebury College, as well as Vassar administrators, professors and students—will be held throughout the weekend.


Additionally, the history of Vassar's Africana Studies program will be chronicled through an exhibit on the first floor of Main Building. Curated by senior Africana Studies majors Kyle Nelson and Summer’s-Grace Green, the exhibit will be installed at sites of the historic 1969 takeover of Main Building that spurred the program.


“We have the opportunity to display our recognition and remembrance of Vassar’s past and the way that it continues to impact our present,” said Green. “The efforts of the students in 1969 demonstrated that Vassar was dedicated to appreciating students of all backgrounds and building a campus life around acceptance and inclusion.”


For forty years, the faculty and students of the Africana Studies Program have helped Vassar move toward a more diverse and egalitarian college community.


The program began in response to the Civil Rights and Black Student Movements of the late 1960s. In 1969, thirty-four black female Vassar students occupied Main Building and demanded that the college create a curriculum space within the institution for teaching, researching, and discussing the experiences of peoples of the African Diaspora. 


Since then, the program has provided students with a comparative and scientific perspective in their approach to the study of the histories, politics, cultures, and experiences of people of African descent. Drawing from a wide range of faculty, Africana Studies offers a uniquely comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum, covering fields such as art, geography, literature, political science, religion and sociology.


Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations or information on accessibility should contact Campus Activities Office at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available.


Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.



Emily Darrow
Media Relations Associate
Office of College Relations

Vassar College
Box 9, 124 Raymond Ave.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

Tel: 845.437.7690
Fax: 845.437.7239

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