Black Studies hosts conference as part of 50th anniversary

Graysen Golter

The Black Studies @ 50 Conference: 1968/1969 will take place today and Friday to explore the legacy of the African-American experience at UT.

The conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Afro-American Studies and Research Center, founded five years after UT hired its first black faculty member.

Shaleiah Fox, UT’s associate director of external relations, said the conference represents the continued efforts to make sure African-Americans have a voice and are represented in academia.

“I think there is more work to do when you look at diversity across the campus,” Fox said. “When you look at black student enrollment, there hasn’t really been a change in how many students are admitted. Black faculty are still woefully underrepresented across the campus. What we can celebrate is that students and faculty came together on UT’s campus 50 years ago and said, ‘We need space to pursue research that considers us, has to do with us and is done by us.’”

Today’s half of the event will feature preconference tours of Art Galleries at Black Studies, a UT platform for African-American art, and an opening keynote address from Edwidge Danticat, an award-winning author and MacArthur Fellow. 


Friday’s half will consist of a series of panels to celebrate and discuss the last 50 years of African-American studies both at UT and throughout the nation. The panels will talk about the different dimensions of African-American studies, including activism, queer studies, art and the women of historical movements.

“I’m really excited to see this conference come to fruition because of its ability to really celebrate this long legacy of black studies on UT’s campus,” said Kendyll Gross, education coordinator of Art Galleries at Black Studies. “We have a variety of panelists working in different subjects. Whether we’re addressing the arts … policy-making …  (or) activism, I think this conference really does show everything black studies excels (at).”

The conference will be free for attendees. Marissa Elder, a African-American diaspora studies and corporate communications senior, said it was important to the organizers that the event be free so all would be welcome.

“Frequently, conferences are held, and they’re expensive, so you only have people who are financially able,” Elder said. “With this conference … you can have an array of different opinions, backgrounds, perspectives … to make the conversation much richer.”