Why major/minor in Afro-American Studies?

Our department is named for W. E. B. Du Bois, the great intellectual who was a native of our Western Massachusetts region and was the first academic scholar to pioneer the systematic study of people of African descent in the U.S. and throughout the world. To earn a degree in Afro-American Studies — or to take courses leading to a certificate or a minor — is to follow in W. E. B. Du Bois’ footsteps of academic excellence and social responsibility. The reasons to major or minor in Afro-American Studies are the ones Du Bois himself emphasized in his life of scholarship and activism:


Students gathered to pose for a group photo at Women in Engineering and Computing Career Day.

1. We are interdisciplinary.

If you like knowing your history, reading novels, watching films, and understanding politics, then you will like the disciplinary diversity of AFROAM. In the core of the major/minor, we require all students to take one literature, one history, and one social science class. After those courses you can take a deeper dive into a specific area of focus.

A group of students and others walking through campus during Family Weekend

2. We think globally and act locally.

We study Black folks wherever they are, and that means we’re all over the globe. Our faculty have taken students to Cuba, Ghana, and Jamaica. They've held the prestigious Fulbright Scholar title in Brazil and China, and they've given lectures and conducted research all over the Black world. We study how the Black experience compares to that of other groups, and we study what we can learn about all groups by studying the creation of Blackness as a socially constructed identity. We offer opportunities for engaged learning integrating real-life problems and experiences with the tools of research, theories, and analysis.

Students laughing and eating food, sitting around a table.

3. We help equip you with skills that can lead to a wide variety of career paths.

To the question “What would I do with an AFROAM major/minor?” we answer that you can do all the same things that you would do with a sociology major, a philosophy or history major, or any liberal arts major. The value of a liberal arts degree is that with it you are not limited to a single professional option.

While in AFROAM, you may focus on the Black experience and related topics, you are also learning how to think, write, and speak critically. Those are the tools that get you exciting jobs. Our graduates are lawyers and activists. They work as bankers and at public policy think tanks. They start community centers and are teachers. Some go on to get their PhDs. It's also a great compliment to majors in other schools, especially Isenberg, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and public health. 

picture of three undergraduate students at the Hadley Cinemas

4. We offer individualized attention.

We are small and give our students a level of individualized attention not as available in programs of study with hundreds of majors. In advising sessions, we try to get to know our majors and minors, focusing on what they are interested in doing while at UMass and beyond.

Undergraduate degree programs
Graduate degree programs

A Conversation on Affirmative Action and Diversity at UMass Amherst

An open forum and Q&A session featuring Professor of Afro-American Studies Amilcar Shabazz and Professor of History Dan Gordon on the topic of affirmative action and diversity. This conversation took place on Monday, October 21, 2013, in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.