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The Africana Research Center (ARC) emerged out of Spring 2001 Black Caucus-led student protests concerning the racial climate at the University Park Campus. While earlier generations of faculty had discussed the possibility of a center, the idea gained momentum in the mid-1990s when more students of color began to enter the university and demand greater diversification of the curriculum and faculty. Faculty and students felt that PSU, a research and land-grant institution, should expand its offering of courses about the role of race and diversity in American life. Funding would be made available to provide institutional support to faculty of color that seek to build research careers at Penn State, and who also seek to diversity its curriculum and its research agenda. Thus, in response to both student concerns and institutional imperatives for recruiting and retaining faculty, the idea of a research center began to assume a new importance in thinking about future institutional growth within Penn State.

History1The student activists in Spring 2001 focused attention on the issue of a research center and lobbied the Diversity Committee of the Alumni Association to support the establishment of the Research Center as part of a long-term process to institutionalize diversity as part of the intellectual agenda at Penn State. As a consequence of their lobbying efforts, the President of the University, Graham Spanier, agreed to the establishment of the Africana Research Center with an initial commitment of $900,000 for five years. Thus, the Center is funded through the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost and administratively housed within the College of the Liberal Arts.

In July 2001, the Center was formally established and Roy Austin was appointed as its inaugural director.

Austin was subsequently appointed as the American Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago in October 2001; Cary Fraser succeeded him and served as interim director of the ARC until June 2003.  Beverly Vandiver served as director from July 2003 until May 2006. Keith B. Wilson became the director in Fall 2006 and served until June 2008. Lovalerie King then served as director from September 2008 through June 2016.  William J. Dewey and Cynthia A. Young served as interim co-directors from July 2016 through June 2018.  Crystal Sanders has served as director since July 2018.

Past ARC Directors

William J. Dewey and Cynthia A. Young

Lovalerie King

Keith B. Wilson

Beverly Vandiver

Cary Fraser

Roy Austin

The Center has also collaborated with the Rock Ethics Institute and the Civil War Era Center in promoting the "Breaking the Silence" project sponsored by the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);  focusing on the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The project seeks to broaden public awareness and exploration of slavery’s continuing legacy in America and the wider Atlantic world. Annual lecture series, the Barbara Jordan Lecture Series and the Nelson Mandela Lecture Series, have been established in collaboration with the Department of African and African American Studies (now the Department of African American Studies and African Studies Program). The Mandela lecture focuses on research related to international human rights issues, and the Jordan lecture focuses on research related to civil rights in the United States. In addition, a partnership has been established with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities to address Black people’s contributions to the arts and humanities. Recognizing Pennsylvania Black Artists: In Pursuit of Social Justice serves as a stepping stone for increasing diversity at Penn State through the arts while also exposing students to outstanding artists who have mastered their craft. Each of these initiatives serves the purpose of provoking members of the PSU academic community toward higher achievement. The Center underwent a formal review in spring of 2007. Since its establishment, the ARC has supported individual and institutional projects geared toward helping to reshape the intellectual agenda within the University. It seeks to give greater visibility to research on the diversity of American life and culture in historical, social, and scientific contexts. It has sought to play the role of catalyst in reshaping the intellectual environment within the University and to create a more inclusive intellectual environment for scholars and students within PSU. It has funded faculty research and a variety of activities including an undergraduate research symposium that offers students an opportunity to present their research to a public audience. The Center has partnered with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences to support an initiative that promotes research and pedagogical collaboration with African Universities on issues of the environment, energy, and climate [The Alliance for Earth Sciences, Engineering, and Development in Africa (AESEDA)]. The long-term goal of the project will focus on the human dimensions of changes that arise from the development and management of the resources that sustain energy development and environmental transformation.

Cary Fraser provided the most of the historical information contained in this summary.

Watch the ARC's 10th Anniversary Video Respective on YouTube