African Diaspora student conference attracts more than 300 students

Keynote speaker Carole Boyce Davies launches new encyclopedia at Kennesaw State

Georgia (Mar 25, 2009) — An all−day conference on race‚ class and gender in the African Diaspora held at Kennesaw State University on March 19 drew some 350 students and scholars and served as the backdrop for launching a new three−volume “Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora.”

Students led conference sessions‚ participated on panels and presented papers focused on race and gender as portrayed in the media and in African and African Diaspora literature. KSU’s African−American Student Alliance led the session on the media.

“The student attendance and participation throughout the conference has been remarkable — far more than we anticipated‚” said College of Humanities Dean Richard Vengroff. “It certainly indicates there is a demand for this type of information and dialogue here.”

Stacie McNeal Flower‚ who is taking accounting and English classes at KSU‚ presented a paper at the conference. She was among the many students who stayed until the conference ended around 9 p.m.

“It was just amazing‚” said Flower. “I’ll be teaching middle and high school students some of the history and different ways of looking at things I learned here today.”

The day’s highlights included the launching of the newly published‚ three−volume encyclopedia with 700 entries about the people‚ events‚ places‚ concepts‚ history and culture of the African Diaspora.

Conference keynote speaker Carole Boyce Davies‚ a professor at Cornell University‚ edited the encyclopedia‚ which draws on the work of more than 300 scholars‚ including Kennesaw State faculty Jesse Benjamin‚ associate professor of sociology‚ and Lucie Viakinnou−Brinson‚ assistant professor of French.

“This launch is a journey that I started in Florida and am ending here at Kennesaw‚” said Davies‚ formerly director of the African−New World Studies Program at Florida International University. “We’ve labored to produce an authoritative resource text from scholars all over the world that can be used by educators‚ researchers‚ organizations‚ libraries and anyone interested in this growing field.” WHY DID SHE LAUNCH THIS AT KSU?

The encyclopedia is billed as the only single−source collection of the most current scholarship on the political‚ economic and cultural relations between people of African descent and the world cultures they have encountered over the past 500 years. For example‚ it features entries about African−influenced communities in India‚ Iraq and Vietnam.

In her keynote address‚ Davies presented an unpublished paper on the legacy of activism in promoting black scholarship‚ beginning with a student uprising at Cornell University in 1969. Since then‚ she said‚ black studies programs have become commonplace‚ but some blacks question the legitimacy of some of the programs and the extent to which they should identify with them‚ especially at majority institutions.

Davies cited First Lady Michele Obama’s senior thesis‚ done at Princeton University in 1985‚ which concluded that even the scant Afro−American studies program in place there was a factor in why black students identified more with the black community then than before or after Princeton.

“Activism starts with an institutional challenge contesting Eurocentric knowledge‚ and where those demands are made‚ it is a red flag that there is some problem‚” said Davies. She charged that some intellectuals who have not been a part of the activism in the U.S. have risen to leadership in African studies departments. In some cases‚ that has contributed to what she has termed “mulatto studies” — a hybrid African/European framework.

To fully capitalize on the legacy of activism‚ Davies said‚ black intellectuals must assure that majority institutions not just focus on integrating bodies but on integrating knowledge. “It’s important to link black studies’ activism to struggles for international human rights.”

Malika Flowers‚ a KSU senior majoring in communications‚ questioned Davies’ charge to young black scholars to educate themselves and remain active in greater causes.

“How do you do all that when you’re just trying to get out of here and find a job — to pay the bills?” Flowers asked. Still‚ she was glad to be reminded that so many people struggled for her opportunity to be at KSU and attend forums like this one.

“I’ve been inspired by this to keep applying to grad schools so I can eventually work to help children‚” she said. “I guess that’s a form of activism.”

For more information on “The Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora‚” visit−


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit