After 30 years of being located in a trailer, the Black Studies Department is being relocated to Old Main. In the past, students have criticized the administration for not hosting the department in a better space and for what they feel is a lack of support for the department. The move is long awaited, since Black Studies was moved to the Faculty Office Building (F.O.B.), a trailer located near the east of campus, in 1991. The F.O.B. was meant to be a temporary location for the department, but Weldon McWilliams, interim chair of the department shared that the notion was eventually put out there that the F.O.B. would be the permanent location for Black Studies. “This is not an ideal space for any department to be in permanently,” McWilliams said. “The F.O.B building is a space that whoever resides in it should only be in it temporarily.”
The department will be on the ground floor of Old Main, and administration involved faculty in coming to this decision. A virtual tour was created for all Black Studies faculty members to view the area regardless of whether they were able to go on the tour in person. While administration had the final say, faculty members had to reach a decision on whether they wanted the department to be on the ground floor, where more space was offered, or on the first floor where some felt a better sense of community would be fostered. Faculty members ultimately requested the ground floor because they wanted to ensure they were all on the same floor. The department had previously turned down an offer to relocate in 2017, because the entire department would not be on the same floor.
Other factors faculty felt it was important for the space to have was a department library, a student conference room where students can come to study and hang out and a place where there can be a sense of community for Black Studies’ majors and minors.
Black Studies views this transition as something that should have happened years before, “The Black Studies Department looks at this as something that was owed to us a long time ago. We don’t see this as something being given to us. The Black Studies Department looks at this as something that has been owed to us for decades,” McWilliams stated. Past and present Black Studies’ students have expressed the sentiment that the department should not reside in the F.O.B. as a permanent space, and McWilliams noted that while the move is a step in the right direction, there’s more that should be done to solidify Black Studies as a department at SUNY New Paltz.
The Black Studies Department is currently understaffed, with five full time faculty members. Only three of them are on tenure track, with the other two on visiting lines, which poses the risk of job insecurity because their contact is temporary, and they cannot apply for tenure. McWilliams explained, “Not being certain of their future definitely plays a role in their psyche. We definitely feel that there should be more tenure track faculty.” The department is currently unable to run their course catalog because there is not enough faculty. This means that Black Studies majors and minors can struggle when trying to fulfill their degree requirements, which can also influence prospective student’s decision to come to SUNY New Paltz if they want to major, minor or have a concentration in Black Studies.
The department also believes that the administration should invest in Black Studies to show their commitment to the department. “It seems that the sentiment is, ‘Black Studies, show us something first, and then we can discuss how we can support that,’” McWilliams said. “But Black Studies’ position is we can’t show you anything more than what we’re doing now. Because we’re understaffed, we don’t have the resources necessary to really function like a full department. We believe the university should invest in Black Studies so that we can function like a full department. Our position is if you invest in us now, you will get the reward on the back end. We will make good on your investment.”
A greater investment in Black Studies would look like an increased amount of funding when funding allotments are created for the departments, and enough money to allow Black Studies to hire tenure track professors with specific specializations so the department can run their entire course catalog.
“The only action I have seen about investing in Black Studies has been the recent announcement of the move. And like I said, the Black Studies Department looks at this as something that was owed to us a long time ago. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they hear us because now we’re being put in a new building, that still doesn’t confirm for us that there’s a commitment to invest in Black Studies,” said McWilliams.
An improved, permanent space for the Black Studies Department was a goal of McWilliams’ as the chair of the department of Black Studies, “When I became chair here, I had an interview component where I met with some of the Black Studies majors, minors and students, and they were very concerned about Black Studies still being in F.O.B. I know it was one of those things I had on my list that if I was to become chair of the department, I would hope to accomplish, so I’m glad to cross that off the list. But I recognize it’s not because of me, it’s because of the long-standing fight that Black Studies has had for decades. So past chairs, past students, past faculty, they all have contributed to us getting to the point where we are now, where the university has announced that we will reside in Old Main.”
“I’m grateful for the move. I don’t know if I want to say I’m satisfied with the move. But I’m grateful for the move. I think it is a step in the right direction. But as I said before, there’s a lot more that needs to happen to indicate that the administration is really invested in the department and that they feel like the department can contribute to the college. I feel like a lot more would have to be done.”
Dominique Hopkins, an alumni who graduated in Dec. 2021 commented this on Black Studies’ Instagram announcement about the move, “It is about time!! Of course this is happening after I have graduated, but I know this is going to be an AMAZING step in the right direction for the Black Studies Department and their presence on campus!! As an alumni that found security, love and knowledge from the department and its faculty I look forward to seeing this unfold!”
Pres. Christian said this about the move, “The Black Studies Department, one of the longest-established in the country, has for years been housed in ‘temporary’ space. That condition does not adequately represent the value that the College places in this department, and does not represent that value well to current and prospective students, faculty, alumni and the community. Better-established space is important to increase the visibility of the department and create a more suitable home for the faculty to contribute to the College’s academic and cultural goals. An effort several years ago to move the department into new space was unsuccessful, and since then our exploration of various alternatives has not identified appropriate and sufficient space. As I entered this final year of my presidency, this was an unfinished action that I did not want to leave for the next president to solve, and I made developing and deciding on a plan a priority for this year… Old Main is our only academic building that has considerable space occupied by administrative units that could be relocated elsewhere to create a new home for Black Studies, minimizing disruption to our core mission. I knew that a decision to displace current administrative personnel to achieve this goal would have been difficult for my successor early in their tenure – another reason that I prioritized this goal before I step away. As we have written, we are grateful for the grace and generosity shown by employees and units being moved out of Old Main to support this plan for a new home for Black Studies.”
McWilliams is thankful for the support people have shown to the Black Studies Department, “The Black Studies Department is grateful for our students who have been allies with the department in raising their voices of concern and raising their voices to basically articulate that Black Studies needs to be out of F.O.B. We are grateful for all those student allies. There were other faculty allies who articulated the same thing. The message to the administration is we’re grateful that they were able to come to the point where they also understood that we had to be out of F.O.B. We’re grateful, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. We’re looking forward to doing the work that is necessary to ensure that our department is operating fully and being seen as an investment by this college.”
The move to Old Main will take place in the summer of 2022 with the goal of the department being settled in for the fall 22’ semester.