Message from the Chair

Commemorating and Reconnecting: Strengthening Relationships with Students, Alumni, and Community

Yolanda Covington-Ward

My name is Yolanda Covington-Ward and I am the new Chair of the Department of Africana Studies. I am extremely proud to be a part of a department with such an amazing history. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of our department. On January 15, 1969, Black students at the University of Pittsburgh staged a sit-in and takeover of the computer room in the Cathedral of Learning. Their protests and list of demands, which were also supported by the larger Black community in Pittsburgh, led to the founding of what is now the Department of Africana Studies.  Fifty years later, Africana Studies is needed just as much today as it was in the past. From protests of state violence, to health and educational inequities, to racial stereotypes in the media, to widespread disinvest in Black communities worldwide, Africana Studies addresses many contemporary challenges of the 21st century locally, nationally, and globally. Yet, we also celebrate the achievements, innovation, and initiative that also define the Black experience in our world.

2019 also marks the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of enslaved Africans in what became British north America. This year presents a critical time for reflection on the status of people of African descent not just in the United States, but also worldwide. What challenges continue to persist and how can we address them? Our Department is engaged in asking these questions while also advocating for real-world solutions.

I first came to the Department of Africana Studies as a tenure-stream Assistant Professor in 2009, becoming an Associate Professor in 2017.  However, my first introduction to Africana Studies came from my fifth-grade teacher Ms. Jackson, who told my entire class of Black and Brown students in the South Bronx that the first human beings were in fact Africans. I didn’t believe her at first, having ingested so many negative images and misconceptions about Blackness. However, as I learned more, she sparked an intense desire within me to learn more about my history and culture as an African-American descended from ancestors enslaved in the American South. In college, I majored in Africana Studies at Brown University and eventually earned a Ph.D in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan.  I was thrilled when I joined the Department of Africana Studies at Pitt.

In this new role as Department Chair, I plan to work with my colleagues to advance the Department in many productive ways.  My goals as Department Chair for the next few years revolve around the theme of “Commemorating and Reconnecting: Strengthening Relationships with Students, Alumni, and Community.”  Through events including but not limited to our Distinguished Annual Lecture and the Race, Science, and Technology in the Global African World Lecture Series, as well as student-focused programming and community partnerships, the Department of Africana Studies seeks to foster and strengthen connections with students, alumni, and the larger community. We hope that you all will join us for this endeavor. Moreover, in 2020, our department will have several events designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of our Department’s founding. Please stay tuned for more information, as we would love to see all of you there.

As we work on creating more student-centered activities and opportunities and intellectual and community-facing programming, I encourage you to support our Department through giving. Please see the giving button on the website menu. We would appreciate any and all support! With your help, we look forward to an engaging and productive year.


All the best,

Yolanda Covington-Ward, Ph.D