Library exhibit highlights 40-year-old programs

The University had the first American Indian Studies and the second African American and African Studies departments.

by Taryn Wobbema

Copies of old documents, photos and newspaper clippings lining the curved walls of Elmer L. Andersen LibraryâÄôs second and third floor atrium display the history of two pioneering programs founded at the University of Minnesota in 1969. The University claims the first Department of American Indian Studies in the country and the second Department of African American and African Studies . Still around after 40 years, the path has not been easy. Curators scoured old archives to find what would best represent the history of these two programs. Jody Gray, assistant librarian and the curator who handled the American Indian studies portion, said the exhibit speaks to MinnesotaâÄôs long history of American Indian politics and activism. Malaika Grant , associate librarian and the curator responsible for choosing the African American studies material, said it was difficult to decide which pieces to include in the exhibit. âÄúItâÄôs really just a snapshot of the history because thereâÄôs a lot to focus on in 40 years,âÄù she said. The beginning The two departments were established by the University Board of Regents in June 1969 after a group of black students took over Morrill Hall âÄî the UniversityâÄôs administrative building âÄî and gave a list of demands, among which was a department geared toward providing better representation in academic curriculum. The takeover came after then-University President Malcolm Moos did not act on initial requests for the department within a certain time window. Professor Emeritus Frank Miller , who retired from the Department of Anthropology seven years ago , was a young professor in 1969. He said American Indian students did not participate in the Morrill Hall takeover, but they also demanded a studies department. âÄúThose were the days of turmoil,âÄù Miller said of the activism that characterized the period. Miller served on the committee charged with getting things started in the American Indian department. Right away, an emphasis was placed on the teaching of two native languages âÄî Dakota and Ojibwe âÄî associated with tribes in Minnesota. Educating students on history, arts and politics also play a role in âÄúrevitalizingâÄù the culture. A secondary focus of both newly-created departments was to bridge the gap between students and the community. During the first half of its existence, the American Indian department struggled against frequent faculty turnover. Nancy Barcelo, vice president of equity and diversity, said this was probably due to a high demand for the few faculty members of color across varying disciplines. This led to âÄúlendingâÄù faculty members from other departments to American Indian Studies. Jean OâÄôBrien, professor in the Department of History is an example of faculty funded in a separate department but affiliated with American Indian Studies. Still growing Walt Jacobs , chairman of African American and African studies, said the department currently has the largest number of majors, 41, and minors, 44, enrolled in the program. The exhibit highlights the interdisciplinary nature of the courses as teaching students about every aspect of African American and African culture. Barcelo said such combinations of topics like history, literature and language are âÄúall important in telling the story.âÄù As both programs continue to expand, as Barcelo said they have already, their history speaks to the âÄúprogressiveness of the institution.âÄù Grant, one of the curators, said, âÄúForty years is a big milestone. ItâÄôs important to take the time out to âĦ recognize the contribution that these programs have made.âÄù The exhibit is open until Dec. 5.