Message from the Director
To begin leadership at the nexus of a viral epidemic and a felt epidermal crises, is a challenge in repetition. For Black studies has always known the riddling effects of terror in disease and dis-ease, insofar as world citizens of color are concerned. There is no greater philosopher of the dilemma that is anti-blackness and terror than Frederick Douglass. To know something is to commit to great intimacy. For years before coming to the University of Rochester, I admired the work at the Frederick Douglass Institute of African and African American Studies (FDI), as a beacon of light at the University of Rochester. And thus, it is my honor to continue the legacy of our ancestors, the historic stakeholders of the institute, and the many minds who committed their intellectual muscles to the study of blackness worldwide.
As the newest director of the FDI, I began in fall 2021 with an ambitious set of goals, to advance the course of the program toward departmentalization, to develop the vision for Black studies at the University, and to cultivate a culture which would welcome scholars, students, and community through necessary ambition, institutional support, and student focus. While I may have been chief architect of this great feat, so many students, faculty, and staff played a prominent role in seeing this vision come to fruition. Indeed, we were able to realize so much in a short period:
- Together, with engaged and enthusiastic faculty, we developed a plan for departmentalization and built an infrastructural plan for the unit through retreat.
- With the hard and dedicated work of faculty, students, staff, and university administration, we established the Department of Black Studies. The Board of Trustees approved the departmentalization on September 30, 2022.
- The Department of Black Studies hired its first two faculty, Assistant Professors Jordan Ealey (Black feminist studies) and Philip McHarris (Black ecologies).
- FDI organized and hosted a well-attended and critically-engaging fall symposium on September 24-25, 2021, “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: Black Study and its Futures” featuring some of the leading thinkers in the field of Black studies, senior and junior scholars.
- FDI co-hosted MacCarthur Genius Nicole Fleetwood for the Two Icons lecture, with Susan B. Anthony
- FDI organized and hosted Fall Symposium 2022, “Black Feminism Unfinished” on September 23, 2022 featuring some of the leading thinkers in Black feminist studies.
- FDI also hosted several community partnerships, including those with the Avenue Black Box Theatre (Dr. Janice Johnson Dias and Hari Ziyad), The Eta Rho Lambda Foundation (presentation of Morehouse Glee Club for Black scholarship), and the Links Foundation (scholarship luncheon).
- At the close of the 2022-23 year, the FDI was able to collaborate with the George Eastman Museum to develop critical supplemental material for Gillain Laub’s Southern Rites exhibition, which explores the impacts of segregation in Georgia on the lives of black and white community members. As collaborators, we were able to facilitate components which impact Western New York, with the help of key FDI affiliates Miranda Mims and Reenah Golden.
As we transition to the Frederick Douglass Institute and Department of Black Studies, the specific work of the Frederick Douglass Institute will continue as a strong programming arm of the academic unit. Indeed, the Douglass legacy of work toward social justice and scholarly practices which reflect the rigorous nature of blackness and the critical endeavor of black study, will remain central to the mission. I have been fortunate to serve as director of the Frederick Douglass Institute and look forward to our next phase of development, the expansion of Black studies within our unit specifically, and throughout the University of Rochester.
Jeffrey Q. McCune, Director, June 2023