In convincing Community College of Allegheny County to form the new Africana and Ethnic Studies department, Dr. Ralph Proctor didn't have to do anything as dramatic as sabotage the school's computer lab. That's what happened in 1969 after he provided counsel to students and community activists who wanted to institute a School of Black Studies in the University of Pittsburgh.
Pitt eventually acquiesced to the demand -- adding a black studies department -- but now Proctor says there's a new challenge: "Not many black folks are convinced there's value to obtaining a degree in black studies."
The discipline is now called Africana studies, since it embodies the works and knowledge of blacks within the United States as well as Africa and the Caribbean. Proctor, along with CCAC Assistant Dean Richard Adams, now is faced with finding students.
In a recent forum on "Why Africana Studies?" Adams, Proctor and Dr. Joseph Adjaye -- the outgoing chair of Pitt's Africana studies department -- discussed the challenges of creating the department and what it will take to grow it. Proctor, the new department's chair, is former director of the Kingsley Association in East Liberty. Richard Adams helped form the Afro-American Studies program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and is a longtime organizer and activist of the East End.
The road to approval at CCAC was at least a year long and anything but smooth. When Adams and the Community College African American Caucus he chairs brought the proposal to the College Council, "folks talked to us like we were crazy," he says, and "one guy said he had never seen so much controversy over one program."
As minutes from those meetings reveal, the chief objections concerned the transferability of courses to a four-year university and, as council member Barbara Thompson asked, "Who would need a certificate in this field?"
Proctor says human-resources personnel and public-school teachers would benefit from classes in an Africana studies department.
Forum attendees proposed a pipeline from Miller African-Centered Academy elementary school in the Hill District leading to CCAC's department, which offers an associate's degree, and then Pitt's. Africana studies graduates, it's hoped, could return to teach at Miller and other schools in the area.
There are currently eight courses in CCAC's Africana department, including "History of the Pittsburgh Civil Rights Movement" -- just a beginning, says Proctor. He was accused, he says, of trying to "clutter the catalogue" when he informed the council that he is also working to develop 10 more courses that focus on other minority ethnic groups. As he told the forum, he hopes these other courses can eventually be instituted "so we can put someone in Condoleeza [Rice]'s face who knows something about foreign people of color."
Other hopes for the department include video-conferencing courses from other universities, study-abroad programs for CCAC students in African schools and a community think-tank focused on Pittsburgh's black neighborhoods.
"Anything I can do, I'm here," CCAC student Leona Wilkerson told the forum. She said she planned to declare herself an Africana and ethnic studies major. "I don't have a degree, but I have a passion and a love for my people."