UNA to have more inclusive histories

Alex Hopper, News Editor

The University of North Alabama’s commits to fostering a new future with the Black studies program. 

Professors Julia Bernier and Karla Zelaya, with the support of the Department of English, Department of History, COAS and Provost built the Black studies minor program in 2019. They describe the program as an “interdisciplinary approach to the study of the lives and experiences of people of african descent.” 

Bernier describes her push into Black studies as her wish to study in a way that centered around Black people. 

“I didn’t want to understand slavery and abolition as an insitution without understanding what that meant to enslaved African Americans,” said Bernier. 

Bernier believes the Black studies program can help center the narrative of American history around Black stories.

Along with this focus, Bernier hopes that UNA students can learn more about the world around them by looking to the past. 

“The academic work we are doing is also a part of the world we live in,” said Bernier. “It was important for me to be a historian of slavery but, also [understanding] slavery’s afterlife.”

Ansley Quiros, a UNA history professor, also speaks to the essential nature of Black studies within the university’s curriculum. 

“The more you study American history, the more you realize how essential Black history is to the story,” said Quiros. “How central the struggle for freedom is.”

“You cannot understand American history unless you understand Black history,” said Quiros. “Black history is American history.” 

Bernier also speaks to the new perspective on past events Black studies can provide. 

“Anyone looking to understand the world in a different way,” said Bernier. “Black studies is really important for that.”

In addition to gaining a new perspective, Bernier believes the program can help continue the scholar activist tradition historically found within Black studies.

“I think that is especially important given what has happened in the past year,” said Bernier. “With the pandemic disproportionately affecting Black people and the uprisings against violence.”

Quiros explains that the activist tradition is specific to Black studies. 

“The history of Black Americans is a deeply admirable struggle toward a more perfect union that often calls for activism,” said Quiros. 

Andre Goliday speaks to that tradition of activism. 

Goliday is majoring in political science and is one of four students minoring in Black studies at UNA. 

“It all comes down to me wanting to do humanitarian work,” said Goliday. 

Originally from Memphis Tenn., Goliday hopes to take his knowledge back to communities like his own. 

“[There’s] a need for more men of color to stand out and try and do something for the community,” said Goliday. “I feel like Black studies is a way I can express myself and lend a helping hand.”

To Goliday, pursuing Black studies at UNA, as opposed to a HBCU, presented unique challenges and rewards. 

“I wouldn’t say I am a pioneer but, someone who can bring a lot to this campus,” said Goliday. “As opposed to an HBCU, this program is new and creates a bigger challenge for me.” 

Goliday also believes that Black studies is important because of the pervasiveness of Black culture. 

“From music, to sports, to literature, to inventions and education you’re going to find something that deals with Black culture,” said Goliday.

“It’s an old quote but, ‘you can’t hate the tree and enjoy the fruit,’” said Goliday. 

Morgan Wilbanks, another Black studies minor, saw the new program as a chance to put positivity into the world. 

“I just felt like it was really important,” said Wilbanks. “It was an opportunity for me, as cheesy as it sounds, to do some good things”

Wilbanks is a recent graduate from UNA, who is now in the literature graduate program. 

“Black studies is a way for me to write about things that matter,” said Wilbanks. “Things that aren’t just screaming back into a void that already exists for privileged people.”

Wilbanks believes that the community within the Black studies program at UNA was a major part of her success within the program. 

“The one thing I can look back and reflect on was just how much a practice of love and community the program was,” said Wilbanks. 

“You know they were always looking out for us,” said Wilbanks. “They help us whenever they can.” 

Wilbanks believes that pursuing Black studies is important because it provides an opportunity to hear voices that can be forgotten.

“Black people have voices that deserve to be here, they are necessary to be here,” said Wilbanks. “We need to make space for that.” 

Both Goliday and Wilbanks illustrate the adaptability of the Black studies program in varied academic fields. 

“It really is an interdisciplinary field,” said Bernier. “It is important that it is interdisciplinary because we all live very complex lives.”

“Whether you’re a nursing major, studying kinesiology, or an art student you can do work within your field,” said Bernier. “We need people who understand these systems.”

In regards to building the program, Bernier points to comments from Lorgia García-Peña, a humanities professor from Harvard University, for the Boston Review. 

“From the moment our children go to kindergarten, they are educated about the world of a very small subset of humanity,” said García-Peña.  

“Ethnic studies is a critical, anti-colonial site of knowledge production,” said García-Peña. “Given the state of our nation and our world, I cannot think of a more urgent area of study.”

Bernier explains that the Black studies program was a long-term process that has finally come to fruition. 

“There were people who were trying to get this to happen and were dedicated to it, and recognizing the need for it,” said Bernier. “So now we’re able to get in here and form a core.”

Quiros explains that along with gaining essential knowledge, the Black studies program at UNA is not only informative, but fun. 

“The Black studies minor is essential and very, very fun,” said Quiros. “It’s a dramatic story full of resilience, joy, and defiance.”