Africana Studies Welcome Letter: August 2021
Régine Michelle Jean-Charles
Director of Africana Studies, Dean’s Professor of Culture and Social Justice, and Professor of Africana Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Régine Michelle Jean-Charles is a Black feminist literary scholar and cultural critic who works at the intersection of race, gender, and justice. Her scholarship and teaching in Africana Studies includes expertise on Black France, Sub-Saharan Africa,…
Greetings and welcome to a new semester!
I am thrilled to begin my time here as the Director of Africana Studies and the Dean’s Professor of Culture and Social Justice. Northeastern is an exciting place to be at this crucial moment in history when the country and our world are grappling with pressing social justice issues. Impactful movements like Black Lives Matter and #metoo, as well as anti-government uprisings across the globe remind us of the need for critical thinking, nuanced analysis, and intentional community engagement. Of course, we continue to face an unprecedented global public health crisis which has had alarmingly disproportionate effects on people of African descent and has further revealed the depth and the breadth of social inequities.
In light of these challenges, Africana Studies is the perfect context in which to examine and engage today’s world. It is a dynamic field that encompasses African American Studies, Caribbean Studies, African Studies, and the entire diaspora. As a global and interdisciplinary project that is both intellectual and activist, Africana Studies emerged from a history of Black student activism that is decades old. Indeed, students are the pulse of everything we do. The mission of Africana Studies is to mentor students invested in valuing the inherent diversity of our world. We are committed to centering Black lives, and this has always been the case since the inception of the field. As these times make especially clear, it is ever more urgent for us to do so today.
As I begin here at Northeastern, I am excited about the possibilities of what we can imagine together. Perhaps in no small part due to my training as a literature scholar, I am an utmost believer in the power of the imagination as an animating force that can inspire, teach, empower, and activate. When we deploy our imaginations, we begin to see the world differently. Our field of Africana Studies would not exist had student activists not imagined their universities as places where knowledge about Black people could be taught, affirmed, and created. As a Haitian-American woman, I come from a people who had to imagine a world without slavery in order to be free. Imagining is a vital piece of our thinking, and I invite you to imagine with me. What kind of program do we want to have? What kind of campus do we want to create? What kind of world do we want to live in? How do we create a more just society?
Given Northeastern’s stature as a leader in experiential learning, Africana Studies is well positioned to mobilize the university’s mission to have a positive impact in the world.
Social justice is essential to Africana Studies not only because of the tradition that it emerges from, but also because our field is rooted in the lived experience of Black people all over the world, and committed to imagining more just futures for all. Likewise, Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary and global project that requires robust community engagement. For these reasons I am eager to work at Northeastern, located in the heart of a Roxbury which has been a pivotal site of Black history for centuries. I look forward to building on the foundation of academic excellence, critically engaged research, community partnership, and experiential learning that already exists in our program.
The times that we live in are fraught. Personally, the past few months have been especially difficult for me as I watched the news about Haiti unfold. The realities of the pandemic forced me to observe from afar rather than in close proximity to my parents and loved ones. I was bereft and overwhelmed. My background as a scholar of Haitian Studies helped me to think through the moment and I was grateful for how my experiential knowledge and academic training combined to offer a more informed perspective. We have a responsibility to our beloved communities to move beyond examining issues with a single perspective.
As the self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior poet Audre Lorde reminds us, “there is no such a thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We live in a complex and interconnected world that requires us to explore it from different academic vantage points, disciplines, perspectives, and positionalities. An interdisciplinary and intersectional Africana Studies program is a wonderful way to move towards those goals and I look forward to partnering with you in how we can imagine together.