Center for African and African American Studies offers new minor, course and grad certificate

Upon its introduction last November, Rice’s Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) made two big promises: Within a year, the center would create a new minor expanding on the previous African Studies minor and develop an introductory African and African American studies (AAAS) course to anchor it.

Anthony Pinn, founding director of the Center for African and African American Studies

Anthony Pinn, founding director of the Center for African and African American Studies

Less than a year later, the new minor and new intro course have already arrived.

The minor and “Knowing Blackness: Introduction to African and African American Studies” will be available to undergraduates starting in the fall 2020 semester. Composed of 18 credit hours, the minor covers a broad spectrum of AAAS topics, from African prehistory to African American-Jewish relations.

But that’s not all. CAAAS has also developed a new graduate certificate program that will equip students with the expertise to teach and perform further research in African and African American studies by placing students within a larger national conversation.

Anthony Pinn, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion, is also the founding director of CAAAS. The joint venture between the School of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences was able to hit the ground running, Pinn said, thanks in large part to the amount of coursework already being produced between the two schools and their faculty.

“We had an existing arrangement of courses that cut across the humanities and the social sciences that really gives students some interesting topics to think about,” Pinn said of the coursework under the previous African Studies minor. The new AAAS minor includes 72 different classes across 10 departments and programs.

“We had so much rich material to pull from it wasn’t a matter of having to start from scratch,” Pinn said. “So what we really needed was an opportunity to think through how to best arrange those courses and then develop an intro course.”

That intro course will be taught by Alexander Byrd, associate professor of history and associate dean of humanities, a multiple-award-winning educator and Rice’s newest Piper Professor. Additional courses will be taught by Rice’s ever-growing staff of Africanists and expand into such important areas as the intersection of race and medicine, feminist and queer theory in the African diaspora, and Francophone African cultural studies.

“I think one of the things we learned through putting this minor together was that we have a rather significant group of faculty doing some really interesting things in the classroom,” Pinn said.

The Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) will be introduced Oct. 16 with a reception in the Humanities courtyard from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

A new CAAAS minor and graduate certificate will be offered starting Fall 2020.

The graduate certificate is another way for students to take advantage of those courses while offering significant funding for future AAAS work.

Graduate students who successfully complete the certificate program receive a one-time stipend in the amount of $5,000. And grad students participating in the program are eligible to apply for travel and research grants of up to $1,000 per calendar year to defray costs related to African and African American studies.

As with the minor, the graduate certificate requires students to take coursework across multiple departments and two schools.

“For some of the students, it’s confirmation of the kind of intellectual work they’ve been interested in since arriving at Rice, if not before,” Pinn said. “So it’s a way for them to value that and to connect beyond their individual silos, right? We tend to do graduate work within the context of departments — and within those departments, within small cohorts of students.”

Through required colloquiums — three will be held each semester, with six required for the certificate — and other opportunities to present their research, grad students will be able to connect beyond their departments and find commonalities across divisions. Pinn anticipates the certificate program will be yet another valuable contribution to the close-knit graduate student community at Rice as well as the world at large.

“I think what graduate students at Rice often do is to reach out and form community around social and cultural issues, to find folks who are not simply like-minded, but who also look like them, have experienced the world like them, are dealing with the same sort of race and gender and class issues,” Pinn said.

“And so, this certificate adds another layer to that,” he said. “And does it in an intentional way that expands beyond connecting with folks who get your social circumstances or who get your cultural background, but it’s also offering the ability to connect with folks around longstanding and deeply important intellectual endeavors.”

For more information on the Center for African and African American Studies, the new minor, graduate certificate and available coursework, visit

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.