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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

UF African American Studies course title sparks controversy among students

A Spring course title at UF has caught several students’ attention.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is seen on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is seen on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

A course meant to recognize the diversity of Florida’s history has stirred up some unintended emotions in students, causing them to question the value of the course. 

The African American Studies department is offering a course next semester titled “Blacks in Florida” under the course code AFA4225. Some students said the wording of the course title is off-putting and may take away from the intentions of the course. Others believe the course offers a different look into Black experiences in Florida.

Tyler Thomas, a 19-year-old UF biology major, said the phrasing of the title and its presentation of the term “Blacks” seemed demeaning. Thomas, who is Black, feels it is insensitive.

“It kind of makes us subhuman in a way because it calls back to the time of segregation and when it was used like that,” he said.

Thomas said it’s important to learn the history behind language when it comes to topics of race and ethnicity and educate people who don’t realize their words can be offensive and rude. 

The course is making a comeback after it was taught in 2014 and again during the Spring 2020 semester, said David A. Canton, UF African American Studies department director. While he said he was not responsible for naming this course, replacing the current phrasing with something that sounds more pleasing may prove to be limiting. 

“It’s inclusive in terms of looking at the different experiences in the state of Florida,” he said. “I believe that makes it more inclusive than when we used to say the Black experience. There has never been just one Black experience.”

The experiences discussed in the course may also be based upon class, gender and sexual orientation. The title “Blacks in Florida” allows for these experiences to remain separate and equally important, he said.

Amanda Concha-Holmes is the professor that will teach the course for the first time during the Spring 2022 semester. She said it will be a learning experience for both herself and her students. 

When she committed to teaching the course, the title had already been solidified. She said she would have chosen Black lives or Black experiences rather than “Blacks” as a category, but she still believes the title represents the foundations of the course well. 

“The whole point of it is to be able to better value the complexity of Black lives in Florida and to recognize a much richer history that often gets overlooked if not erased from the textbooks, from the classrooms and from even media representations,” Concha-Holmes said. 

People of African descent were major players in nearly every significant event in the history of Florida, she said. The course is designed to tell those stories and show students how to take that knowledge beyond the classroom and into communities and conversations.

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Regardless of intent, students showed concern others might be deterred from taking the course because of the initial implications of the title. 

“Blacks in Florida just sounds like you’re looking from the outside with a microscope,” said Ashanti Brown, a 22-year-old UF public relations major. “It just sounds like you’re almost judging them.”

Brown said people don’t know what a class has to offer until they take it. The title provides the first look into the course and a title that can be taken as controversial may steer some students away, she said.

Concha-Holmes said she hopes students will not be discouraged by a title that was already in the books.

“We have such a mix of histories,” she said, “And that's part of the goal is to recognize the diversity that's here and then allow for that to come to the fore.”

 

Desiree Anello is a contributing writer for The Alligator.

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