New African diaspora studies program starts at University of Oregon-Includes visit to Ghana

Bridging the gap between the African and African-American experience is the goal of a new study abroad program offered by University of Oregon’s Global Education Oregon program.

The program is partnering with two historically black colleges and universities on the study abroad experience. At least 15 students will be able to enroll in the program; the application deadline is March 15.

Students will begin by spending time in New Orleans. The city, which served as the first port of entry for many slaves coming to America, retains cultural and historical markers, many of which are still apparent today. Students will stay on the campus of Xavier University of Louisiana and visit landmarks and other important sites in the state.

From there, students will travel to Ghana, where they will live with host families while attending classes and excursions, including visits to historical points of interest related to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. At the conclusion of the program, the group will travel to Kumasi and to Cape Coast to visit one of the largest open-air markets in Africa and to see the castles used in the slave trade.

The new program is unique in that it is a partnership with the University of Oregon, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Southern University and A&M College. Prominent faculty members from all three campuses will lead the program, including Yvette Alex-Assensoh, vice president for equity and inclusion and a political science professor at the UO.

Alex-Assensoh said she and A.B. Assensoh, a UO history professor and Alex-Assensoh’s husband, were inspired to create the program after her continued reflection on the transformative study abroad experience she had as a student at Dillard University, also a historically black school. A.B. Assensoh is co-director of the program.

While acknowledging she was fortunate to have parents who could support her study abroad experience when she was a student, Alex-Assensoh said this program is aimed at providing an enriching international experience to all students.

“Nationally, participation of black and other underrepresented students in study abroad programs is negligible, and this program is designed to address this issue and, perhaps, serve as a model of how to use interuniversity partnerships to share the financial costs and drive change,” Alex-Assensoh said.

Cynthia Bryant, the dean of humanities and interdisciplinary studies at Southern University and A&M College and co-director of the program, echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever partnered with a predominantly white institution to do something like this in the past,” Bryant said. “Interinstitutional connection makes for a wonderful experience for everyone involved, so we can all benefit from the experience.”

The four faculty members leading the program will teach different courses, and students will receive credit for the international education experience. Bryant, an English professor with expertise in contemporary African-American literature, hopes to use a play and a novel to showcase the bridging of African and African-American cultural experiences.

The program application process will be based on student GPA, an academic recommendation and answers to two essay questions. First-generation college students and those who have never traveled abroad, as well as those interested in diversity and diaspora studies, will be given preference in the selection process.

More information can be found on the GEO African Diaspora Studies in New Orleans and Ghana program page.

—By Kim Lamke Calderon, University Communications

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