MISSOULA – The University of Montana celebrated its first cohort of graduating seniors with majors in African-American studies during Commencement on Saturday, May 13.
For 49 years, UM students could take classes in African-American studies, but until this year, no one could earn a bachelor’s degree in the program. A minor has been available since 2003, but approval from the Montana Board of Regents in spring 2016 made the bachelor’s degree available for the first time.
“I’m African-American,” said La’Ashia Evans, who earned her bachelor’s degree in the new program, “but I didn’t know my own history. The new major made it possible for me to learn about the accomplishments of my community.”
During the program’s graduation ceremony, Program Director Tobin Miller Shearer noted that it is the students who make the program “make sense” in the least black state in the union.
“Our students,” Shearer said, “are bright, committed, intelligent and able to talk with grace, sophistication and insight about one of this country’s most consistent fault lines – the fault line of race.”
“I remember finishing the first of day of Dr. Shearer’s course, Black: From Africa to Hip-Hop, knowing that one, I just had my mind blown, and two, this was the program for me,” said Morgan Curtin, who also majored in African-American studies.
For his senior capstone project, McCauley Todd conducted a series of oral history interviews with white and black members of the Montana Grizzlies football team. After final revisions, he hopes to share his findings with members of UM’s athletic department.
“This department is my home,” Todd said. “I will be carrying lessons I learned here into my career as a football coach.”
The UM African-American Studies program is the third oldest in the nation and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018.