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UW Launches Black Studies Center

May 12, 2021
a woman and a man standing inside
Black Studies Center Director Fredrick Douglass Dixon and Director of Engagement Timberly Vogel in the new center.

The new center will be a hub of research, scholarship and community engagement. 

By Micaela Myers 

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in 2020, a movement demanding racial justice and police reform broke out across the country, reaching every state including Wyoming. Everyday citizens began to reach out to the University of Wyoming for information and leadership. In response, UW launched the Black Studies Center.

“The creation of the Black Studies Center came about at a time when the country was embroiled in social justice issues,” says Director Fredrick Douglass Dixon. “We believe African American and Black studies will be called out to be part of the solution. And we will be prepared, because we are preparing students to take on that task and to lead the charge.”

Through the center, young scholars in introductory African American and diaspora studies and African American history courses will be introduced to graduate study rigor and research in a way that’s transformative.

“We are an on ramp for them to quickly become immersed in a higher level of scholarly thinking, research and understanding,” Dixon says. “Out of this, students will have undergraduate opportunities to present their research at a national conference. We build relationships with academics from across the country so students will have access to these scholars who can help cultivate their expertise and brilliance. We want to immediately introduce the idea of students going on to graduate school.”

An advisory board for the center is made up of Black studies giants such as Nathan Hare, who led the nation’s first official Black studies program at San Francisco State University starting in 1969.

Dixon believes UW’s center can be a leading voice for Black studies in rural areas and hopes to recruit more rural students to UW.

The research students conduct at the new center is not just scholarly but also connected to real grassroots and community action. Recent graduate Timberly Vogel exemplifies the center’s aims. She’s currently applying to Ph.D. programs and helped lead Laramie community activism efforts throughout 2020. Vogel serves as the Black Studies Center’s research assistant and director of engagement.

“My minor in African American and diaspora studies helped me to produce a more comprehensive view of the racial issues that we see our nation dealing with today and understand how important education is,” Vogel says. “Laramie Human Rights Network was founded this past summer by me and a couple of other community members. The topic of police reform isn’t stuck in a vacuum of urban places with high crime rates. It’s an issue of the institution of policing that is disproportionately impacting people of color.”

In her role at the center, Vogel began by helping put together a webinar series on topics such the death of Black Wall Street, what Black studies means today and a series for February’s Black History Month and March’s Women’s History Month.

“It’s been awesome to have professors from across the country come to these Zoom rooms and discuss the intricacies of being Black in America and having people from Wyoming like [Assistant Professor] Dixon and myself bring in how this compares to being Black in a rural space,” she says.

“It’s been awesome to have professors from across the country come to these Zoom rooms and discuss the intricacies of being Black in America and having people from Wyoming like [Assistant Professor] Dixon and myself bring in how this compares to being Black in a rural space,” she says. “I want to work on providing educational pieces about Black history in a way that shines a light on the issues we see the nation struggling with today. You might be able to detach from these issues because you don’t identify or they seem to be happening in big metropolitan cities, but this is a national issue and everyone should care about it.” 

Black Studies Center Goals and Initiatives

UW’s Black Studies Center launched with several initial goals: to create an institutional platform that will dedicate efforts and resources to support culturally responsive teaching, rural community-focused engagement and evidence-based research related to Black studies; to inspire and provide students with opportunities to understand and appreciate the importance and interrelations of the complex concepts and theories that constitute Black studies; to assist students in securing the necessary skills to think critically about, convey and articulate the conditions of the Black experience by developing a sense of cultural insight to identify and understand patterns of historical development; and to introduce students to the fundamental rigors of graduate research to comprehend the importance of historical interpretations’ theoretical underpinnings.

To meet these goals, the center announced several initiatives under the Community of Scholars Initiative umbrella, including the Dr. Nathan Hare Leadership Institute, the Ida B. Wells Annual Capstone Essay Research Contest, the Silas Purnell Black Studies Recruitment Initiative, the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Graduate Studies Bridge Program, the Community Engagement Outreach Program, the Community Engagement Project, the endowed Liz Byrd Speaker Series, quarterly Black Studies Center Workshops and a Faculty Collaboration Program.

The center is housed in Room 117 of Ross Hall. Learn more at uwyo.edu/aads/black-studies-center.

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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