Words and Photographs by Makeda Viechweg
After drama in the fall semester and in the midst of a decrease in black students and shortage of black professors, CCNY’s Black Studies program has struggled back to its feet. Earlier this month in Shepard Hall, Dr. Vanessa K. Valdes, the newly appointed director of Black Studies, hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the future of the program.
“My job, plain and simple, is to facilitate that our students graduate,” explained Dr. Valdes. “To that end, I am charged with making sure that our course offerings meet the standards of excellence that all of us as learners demand.”
Dr. Valdes, a professor in the department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures for a decade, took over the Black Studies Program at the beginning of the spring semester after Dr. Cheryl Sterling resigned in August. An executive committee of four faculty members took charge of the program amid the chaos and confusion.
At the town hall meeting, Dr. Valdes stressed the need to put students first. “Making sure that [students] have what they need on this collegiate journey necessarily strengthens the program,” she said.
Black Studies major Jefrey Lewis is excited to see where the new director takes the program. “Dr. Valdes is amazing,” he said, “the passion she has is going to help drive the program in a great direction.”
Some students praised the intersectionality of choosing a director whose work traverses the black and Latinx cultures. “Dr. Valdes will play an integral role in the fusion of African awareness and cultures within the English and Spanish speaking communities, offering support and unity in finding solutions to people of color,” said Christopher Henry, an Undergraduate Student Senator for the College of Liberal Arts. Last fall, Henry organized a Black Studies “Speak Out” to share ideas, concerns, and solutions on the state of affairs of the program.
“I am very confident in her type of leadership and awareness of the African community and the African diasporic community,” added Henry, who served as the student representative in the selection of the new director.
Dr. Valdes also announced three days of events in April to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 takeover of CCNY. “The 1969 protests are what birthed the Black Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies programs here at CCNY,” she said. “Regular students – students your age – Black and Puerto Rican students alike, held the school accountable by demanding curricula that centered their histories and intellectual contributions to whole fields of knowledge.”
Black Studies, Dr. Valdes believes, is integrate to the health of the college: “There is no realizing The City College of New York’s mission of “advanc[ing] knowledge and critical thinking, and foster[ing] research, creativity, and innovation across academic, artistic, and professional disciplines without the success of our program.”