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Black Studies: Building on a Proud Tradition

History of Department

History of Black Studies at SUNY New Paltz

The SUNY New Paltz Black Studies Department was established in 1969, making it one of the longest-running such departments in the nation.

The history of Black Studies at New Paltz dates back to 1967, when faculty and administrators, directed by then-Interim President John H. Jacobson, began planning what would become known as Project A, an effort to provide financial support and academic advising to students of traditionally underrepresented demographics, consistent with the College’s mission to provide access to quality higher education to all New York residents. Project A is the precursor of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which has helped more than 40,000 students earn degrees at the College since its inception.

Project A had an immediate positive impact on the diversity of the student population. In an effort to provide a more well-rounded and inclusive education to meet the needs of students, the faculty worked with administrators to create the Black Studies Department. Beloved professor Dr. Marjorie Butler was appointed the first department chair.

The original founders of the Black Studies Department outlined a mission of education that guides students and faculty to this day. It includes:

  • Providing students with an accurate and thorough treatment of the history of people of African ancestry;
  • Examining the impact of current economic, social and political forces that shape the Black experience;
  • Helping engender in students and community members an understanding of the unique issues faced by people of African ancestry in the modern world;
  • Presenting opportunities to study in depth and breadth the artistic expression of people of African ancestry;
  • Presenting opportunities to conduct research and creative activity in Black Studies on campus and in the community;
  • Fostering marketable skills in speaking, writing and analysis.

The Black Studies curriculum has evolved to become an interdisciplinary set of courses drawn from history, the humanities, sociology, psychology, political science and economics.

Today, the Black Studies Department offers two multi-disciplinary majors devoted to the exploration and analysis of the history and culture of African people in the United States, Caribbean, and Africa: a Liberal Arts Major, and an Early Childhood and Childhood Education curriculum  focusing on Birth-Grade 2 (B-2) and Grades 1-6. These majors define the Black experience from an African and Afro-American-centered perspective, illuminate the contribution of African people to world culture and correct a traditional approach to the study of world history that has tended to bypass the African Diaspora experience.

Graduates of Black Studies have gone on to use their degrees as the foundation of careers in law, political science, history, sociology, education and the arts.

Through the years the Black Studies Department has worked with and benefitted from campus initiatives like EOP, the Minority Recruitment Program, which further supported the recruitment of Black students to campus through the establishment of the MRP Scholarship Fund, and the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, founded in 1988 to serve as a support network for talented and high-achieving general admission students of color.