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University of Iowa News Release

 

April 3, 2007

UI Alumna Speaks April 13 On Status Of African-American Studies Field

Noliwe Rooks, a University of Iowa alumna and associate director of the Center for African American studies at Princeton University, will discuss current developments in the field of African American studies in a free public lecture at 4 p.m. Friday, April 13 in Room 704 of the Jefferson Building.

The lecture, "Black is Not a Primary Color: African American Studies and Higher Education," is part of the UI Center for Ethnic Studies and the Arts' spring lecture series, "Thinking Outside the Box: Ethnic Identities and the Arts." Rooks is the 2007 Albert E. Stone Distinguished Alumni Speaker in American Studies.

The first black studies program was founded in response to a 1968 race-related student strike at San Francisco State University, sparking the establishment of hundreds of similar programs nationwide. The programs were frequently designed to address America's "race problem" and to attract and retain black students.

Today, Rooks says, the field of African American studies is struggling to define itself. She will visit the UI campus this month to explain how and why the field has changed. In her lecture, she will discuss how the changes tie into larger issues of race in higher education, and why those issues matter in the 21st century.

In 2006, Rooks published "White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis in Higher Education." According to an American Library Association review, the book addresses a debate "on whether black studies is a first-class academic pursuit or a second-class accommodation for black students trying to avoid academic rigor. The debate has led to a stigmatizing of some programs, with minority students avoiding them, while universities have seen them as recruitment tools to attract minorities." Rooks observes that many black studies programs on elite campuses now attract students from Africa or the Caribbean, making the survival of the discipline contingent on non-African-American students.

Rooks earned a bachelor's degree in English from Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., and master's degree and doctorate in American studies from the UI. At Princeton, she teaches courses on 19th- and 20th-century African American history and culture with a particular focus on black women. She wrote "Ladies Pages: African American Women's Magazines and the Culture that Made Them," a book on the social and cultural history of African-American women's magazines. Her book "Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture and African American Women" won a Choice Award for outstanding academic book. Rooks was associate editor of "Paris Connections: African American Artists in Paris 1920-1975," which won an American Book Award. "Hair Rising" is a revision of the dissertation Rooks completed at the UI.

Drawing on the UI's distinctive strengths in the arts, the Center for Ethnic Studies and the Arts was established in 2006 as the first research center to focus on creative expression as a specific important cultural component of ethnic communities and their heritage. The center is housed in the Department of American Studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). The center is housed in the American Studies department in the CLAS and is funded by the CLAS, the Graduate College, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Provost.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. Anyone needing an accommodation should call the Center for Ethnic Studies and the Arts in advance at 319-384-3490.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070, nicole-riehl@uiowa.edu; Program: Karen Smith, 319-384-3490; cesa@uiowa.edu