Shopping Season


Now, it is starting to get scary.
Class shopping has started and it is something I am totally unfamiliar with. Basically, students put together a list of classes that they might be interested in and duck and out of them throughout the week. Essentially, the professor is auditioning for the students. Of course, there are some classes that students have to take, but shopping kind of gives students power, as well as flexibility to chart their own academic career. A teacher is too boring or hard? Drop it and go somewhere else. But it also has limits. There are some classes that have set admission requirements or set size limits. There are several classes limited to about 10 or 15 students. Several popular classes, especially in Kennedy, are standing room only until enough people drop or get in off of the waiting list. One class, Justice, admits 1,000 students. As Nieman Fellows, for the most part, if there was a waiting list or a class-size limit, we would get left out.
Throughout orientation, former fellows encouraged us to send emails to each of the professors whose classes we were interested in taking. I sent probably a dozen emails and was welcomed in each class I applied for. But I also ventured out to meet some of the professors. As part of my Nieman application, I plan on studying the history and future of historically black colleges, many of my classes – at least for the first semester – would deal with black culture. So, I along with fellows Chris Vogner, Thaba Lesilo and Affiliate Marvin Black (a professional basketball player, married to Fellow Hannah Allam) paid a visit to the W.E.B. DuBois Institute and the African-American Studies Department, since we all had interest in studying black culture.
Vera, the executive director of the DuBois Institute, eagerly gave us a tour of the facility and introduced us to her Fellows. Skip Gates, the dean of the Institute was not around, but she introduced us to the pre-imminent sociologist William Julius Wilson. He came to the door of his office and said hello. At first it seemed like we had interrupted his work, but when he found out that we were journalists, he launched into a 20 minute lecture about the election. It was awesome. At the time, Obama was kind of struggling with his message and Wilson was fearful that he might lose the election – despite what the polls were saying. He concluded that if Obama lost, he was moving to Thailand. Then, he invited us to take his class next semester, and went back to work. It was amazing.
We next visited the African-American Studies Department. We just missed Jamaica Kincaid, but ran into philosophy Tommie Shelby, author of “We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity,”
He was mad cool. FAMU graduate.
We left both departments with a clear sense of being welcomed with open arms. And we have all been regulars at all of their social events. I think I shopped about 10 classes. But some didn’t work. I wanted to take a speech class, but, as an auditor, I would not have been able to make speeches, so I didn’t see the point. Some classes were just too crowded. In the end, I settled on six classes. My Fellow Niemans think I am crazy. Perhaps they are right.
Classes –
As it turned out, with my focus being on HBCUs, all of my classes this semester revolve around some aspect of black culture. None of the classes, even indirectly look at education. But in my opinion, they each offer a differenct aspect on the need for HBCUs and the forces that helped create and sustain them, from slavery to today. All of the classes have given me great context.
So here is what I am taking. I’ll go into further detail throughout the year.

1. Black Nationalism: This is the class taught by Tommie Shelby that looks at how the black nationalists voice evolved over history. We are reading and studying folks like David Walker, Martin Delaney, DuBois, Maria Stewart, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Tons of reading.
2. African and African American Studies 10: Taught by two legends, Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. This class is amazing. Gates and Higginbotham alternate the class lectures. Gates might lecture on Monday about “Who’s your Daddy,” which touched on aspects of the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” And Higginbotham will come back on Wednesday with a lecture about nation building and Pan-Africanism the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Both are brilliant and rely on different styles. Higginbotham is more serious and scholarly. Gates is just as scholarly, but injects vasts amounts of humor. He is also not afraid to call his Teaching Fellow, “Negro,” in the great tradition of black signifying. It is the only class I have ever taken where the professors are actually given a round of applause after the lecture is over. But the highlight of the class is the back and forth between the two, who are obviously dear friends. They often take opposing sides of an argument to get a certain point across and will literally debate each other. Lets take Gates’ lecture on “What is in a name” as an example. He went through all of the debates about what black people have been called, what they call themselves and what they should be called. He concluded that regardless of what black people call themselves, it doesn’t matter until the crime rate goes down, the amount of men attending college increases, etc… Basically, until black folks get their acts together, names don’t matter. We clapped and got ready to pack up and leave. But Higginbotham vehemently disagreed with his whole argument. She said that each name that black folks ( I use black in the generic sense) used in the past, was because of hard-earned stuggles. So to go from Nigger to Negro to Colored to Black each represented something that should not be discounted. She came up in a period when it was very important to be identified as black and to be identified as black in the 60s and 70s was a monumental achievement that meant something to her. They couldn’t come to terms by the end of class and continued their conversation as they walked to their offices. Gates identifies himself as African-American by the way, partly because of his love for and travels throughout the continent. Higginbotham, who Gates’ claimed once sported a huge Afro, is black.
3. Black Humor: Performance, Art, and Literature: Taught by Glendia Carpio, author of Laughing Fit to Kill, which features a nearly naked photo of Richard Pryor on the cover. Like the cover, I have quickly realized that I can’t look at Pryor or any other comedian the same way after this class. Tangelique is also taking this class with me, which is mad cool.

4. African-American Literature to the 1920s: This is another class taught by Carpio, which traces black lit from folktales and spirituals to James Weldon Johnson’s, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, which ushered in the black renisannce. My one regret is that Carpio is not teaching her black Renisannce class next semester, so I guess I am on my own.

5. African American History from the Slave Trade to 1900: Taught by Susan O’ Donovan, author of “Becoming Free in the Cotton South,” and one of the most popular history professors on campus.

6. Please, Wake Up! – Race, Gender, Class and Ethnicity in the Early Films of Spike Lee: This is one of the first course I identified as being interested when I got to Harvard. Biodun Jeyifo, teaches the course, which is more than I expected. Aside from studying Spike’s films, of which I am a student of, we are also looking at film theory and motivations. Who ever thought about associating the writings of Franz Fanon to “School Daze.”

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Published in: on November 1, 2008 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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