Black women’s studies joint minor at the University of Maryland uplifts Black women

The Black women’s studies minor is a joint effort between the College of Behavioral Science, located in Tydings Hall, and College of Arts and Humanities, located in Francis Scott Key Hall, at University of Maryland. The minor broadly focuses on social justice issues. (Megan Sayles/The Black Explosion)

The Black women’s studies minor is a joint effort between the College of Behavioral Science, located in Tydings Hall, and College of Arts and Humanities, located in Francis Scott Key Hall, at University of Maryland. The minor broadly focuses on social justice issues. (Megan Sayles/The Black Explosion)

For associate women’s studies professor Michelle Rowley, students attend university to take advantage of the opportunity to think critically and read widely, and with the Black women’s studies minor, students at University of Maryland can do this.  

“The Black women studies minor provides them with this opportunity using questions of race to do that… it’s predicated on your curiosity,” Rowley said.

The Black women’s studies minor is a joint minor between the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences’ African American studies program and the College of Arts and Humanities’ women’s studies program. It was created in 2005, and students can join the minor under either college, according to Elsa Barkley Brown, associate professor of history and women’s studies.

Barkley Brown said that looking at the treatment today of young black people in public schools and police violence and incarceration of black people, people often only talk of how it affects black men, but women are dealing with these problems just as much, if not more.   

Barkley Brown was a part of the group of professors who helped to construct the minor. She believes that there was a lot accomplished in Black feminist history, and there was a desire to pull these courses together, across majors and colleges, for a field of study particular to students with interest in these topics.

“The main emphasis for its creation is that it [Black women’s studies] is a field of scholarship,” Barkley Brown said.   

Barkley Brown said students often get involved with the major after taking one of their introductory courses. The introductory courses include the introduction to Black women’s studies and the construction of manhood and womanhood in the Black community.

The minor consists of six credits of foundational courses, which include the introductory courses listed above, and nine credits of distributive courses, according to the minor’s website.

Barkley Brown said the minor’s importance lies in its ability to give all students a different lens to see what’s happening around them.

“I think that sometimes when we listen to people talking about issues in the Black community… we talk about it in a way that are specifically relating to men,” Barkley Brown said. She thinks it’s important that we include the perspective of Black women as well.

Both Barkley Brown and Rowley said that there is no stigma surrounding men or people of different races being in the minor. Both teachers said they have had men in their classes as well as people that are not Black, but were not sure of an exact number.

“For students who are not black, part of your university experience requires you to think broadly,” Rowley said. “For students who are black, they have this opportunity to pursue this curiosity in a way that is relative to their individual histories and experiences.”

Skye Haynes, a senior communications major and Black women’s studies minor, said that when she was in high school her history classes primarily focused on broad, American history and only briefly mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. However, after taking an African American studies class, she was able to learn about her own history for the first time, according to Haynes. This led her to pursuing the minor.

“Each of the professors I’ve had have been role models for me, and it’s been such a privilege to be taught by these accomplished Black women,” Haynes said. She said the professors of the minor have an incredible depth of knowledge and dedication to uplifting Black women.  

Haynes also said that this minor has affected the trajectory of her career. She will no longer allow herself to take a job at a place that doesn’t value her experiences as a Black woman.

“It makes me value company culture and mission statements above pay,” Haynes said.