First African American Studies minors graduate from Georgia Gwinnett College

Devonna Smith

Devonna Smith 

The first two students to receive Georgia Gwinnett College’s (GGC) new African American Studies minor will graduate this semester. Psychology majors Devonna Smith and Brittany Boden will graduate with the minor in December.

The program incorporates the plurality of experiences and perspectives of African Americans and other people of African descent, contextualized as part of the larger African Diaspora. Students learn through an interdisciplinary approach that uses history, social sciences, political science, literature, arts and popular culture.

Marc Gilley, interim associate dean for the School of Liberal Arts, said the African American Studies minor connects students to one another in a way a lot of programs don’t.

“It teaches a field that isn’t often delved into—and introduces a side of history and thought that is more relevant than ever today,” he said. “The intention is to balance a lot of different viewpoints, and introduce viewpoints that are outside of typical education and that might be outside the students’ personal experience. What that does, within a big college, is create a sense of home for people. I think that’s a really important thing.”

Smith agreed with Gilley’s assessment. She said she would have graduated earlier, but her mentor in the psychology department told her about the minor and she decided to add it to her degree.

“The first day of the intro class I was like, ‘Ok how is this going to go?’ But as soon as we started getting into the discussion I said, ‘This is really awesome!’” said Smith. “After that first day everyone kind of blended in. I was able to really mesh with other people who look like me, and who I learned from as well.”

The minor involves nine credit hours of required courses and six of elective courses. Students learn about African American history and literature, as well as the Atlantic slave trade and 1960s America.

Gilley said there are two components that bookend the minor that make it unique: an introductory to African American studies class at the beginning, and a portfolio class at the end in which students put together a presentation.

“When you apply for the minor you define it for yourself, so not everybody’s experience attaining an African American minor is going to be the same,” he said. “You can tailor it if you’re a business major, a liberal arts major, or a major in any of the 19 majors GGC offers. The beginning and ending classes provide context to the different viewpoints.”

Smith’s final presentation was about the portrayal of African American women in media. She teamed up with four other students in the class, and says what they learned putting it together was eye-opening.

“Working on the final project was really memorable,” she said. “African American youth are like sponges. They really take in the portrayals they see on television – like black women who are loud or ‘from the ghetto.’ Young people take that in and think black women are really are like that, when we all aren’t. That project was just an awesome learning experience.”

Smith said she’s happy she took the extra time to earn the minor, and believes it will be very useful as she begins her new career in psychology.

“I am at the end of this journey. I graduate in December and I’m glad I got to squeeze it in,” she said. “I think it has given me more of a foundation as I move into my professional career, because I’m interested in counseling and social work. The things I’ve learned getting the minor will help catapult me forward.”

Smith said the one thing she’d like people to know about the program is that anyone is welcome to join it, and she’d especially like to see more people who are not of color participate.

“I would suggest this minor to anybody, but I more so want to speak to people who are not of color,” she said. “Just like we can take courses about European history, we also can learn about African history. I think that’s very important. I want it to be inclusive for everyone, not just African American students, because what we learn you can learn, too, and then maybe, moving forward, we can all work towards understanding one another.”

Smith and Boden will join more than 500 of their classmates at GGC’s virtual fall commencement, scheduled for 10 a.m., Dec. 10. The ceremony can be viewed at http://www.ggc.edu/commencement

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