The list of classes in WVU’s Africana studies department is diverse, but its staff is not as it currently has zero Black professors.
“You’ve got to think where we are; it is a PWI (predominantly white institution), but you would want at least a couple of African American professors, especially in that department,” said Tracey Picou, a senior multidisciplinary studies student and a student diversity ambassador for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
While a professor’s expertise is important, Picou says having Black professors could add a dimension that pure expertise lacks.
“Granted, the other non-African American professors have studied it and gone to school for it, but you would want to see an actual African American professor teaching the history,” Picou said. “It would just be beneficial because you’d have multiple perspectives. Eventually, some biases start to play into it when it’s from other perspectives.”
Additionally, Picou said there was a level of personal connection that could be achieved when Black professors teach Black topics.
“I think it’ll also help them to see different points of view, especially if you’ve got an African American professor teaching it,” she said. “[Students] will be able to see how the professor really feels as well.”
Picou said hiring a more diverse staff for the program would not just help the students they are teaching, but the University as a whole.
“I do think it would be beneficial for the University; it wouldn’t give them a negative look if they had found and [taken on] African American professors in that department,” Picou said.
So, why the absence of Black professors? Picou suggested that it might be a combination of hiring failures and pure accidents.
“It could be accidental because maybe all white professors applied for that position,” Picou said. “And maybe it could be an institutional thing; maybe they used to have [more diverse] professors and everyone left. I do know a lot of people tend to come and go at WVU, especially professors and advisors.”
Despite the lack of diversity in this department, Picou said she was pleased with the University’s efforts to increase diversity.
“Each year, we try to do the best we can to make the University more diverse and more inclusive, and with the pandemic happening, we really couldn’t do as much,” Picou said. “But I do know the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion did their best. I would say we’re definitely growing in the diversity and inclusion area.”