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VOL. 23, NO. 5OCTOBER 3, 1997


Four New Faculty Will Highlight African-American Institute Forum

By Suzanne Trimel

Four new faculty members affiliated with the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia will join the Institute Director, Professor Manning Marable, for a wide-ranging discussion of race and race relations on Tuesday, Oct. 7, in Low Rotunda.

  The new professors—Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished visiting professor of African-American studies; Lee Baker, assistant professor of anthropology and African-American studies; Gina Dent, assistant professor of English and comparative literature and research fellow in African-American studies, and Mary Pattillo, assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies—form the core faculty group with Marable in African-American studies at Columbia. As founding director of the Institute, Marable, a history professor, has sought to broaden the focus of African-American studies at the University to address critical issues in black America today. At the same time, he has encouraged a more proactive role for the Institute beyond the academy through its public programs, lectures, conferences and its journal, Race and Reason.

  "These outstanding young scholars represent the very best among the next generation in African-American scholarship," said Marable. "Their research and writings on the cultural, social and political forces at work in black America today have reached a broad audience. I think it's fair to say that as a group, their work is increasingly essential to an understanding of the African-American community."

  • Michael Eric Dyson, 38, is widely known as a charismatic and articulate interpreter of African-American culture. An ordained Baptist minister with a Ph.D. in religion from Princeton, he is a frequent commentator in the media. His books, including Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture, have earned wide acclaim in academia and the popular press. He is currently working on new books about the generational divide in black America, What Have We Come To?, and a collection of essays, Race/Theory: Conversations.

      Dyson sought the move to Columbia and New York City because he sees it as a "veritable live laboratory for testing all sorts of ideas on culture and race. There's the wonderful academic side of Columbia, with so many people on the faculty who I've been reading all these years, and then there's the broader mix beyond in the city, which is fascinating and inspiring."

  • Gina Dent, 30, earned the Ph.D. at Columbia last year and is editor of the influential anthology, Black Popular Culture. Her writings on race, feminism and popular culture led Ebony Magazine to name her one of the black leaders of the future in 1996.

  • Lee Baker, 30, is an anthropologist whose research has focused on the role anthropology has played in the development of ideas about race. Because the discipline of anthropology developed at Columbia under scholars like Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, Baker's work has focused on Columbia's integral role in interpreting race. His book, From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954 will be published in the fall of 1998.

      "My appointment here could not be more of a perfect fit," Baker said. In addition, he has examined the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance intellectuals and the scholars of Columbia and more broadly, the contradiction between the ideals of equality, justice and freedom in democratic societies and the persistence of racial inequality. A Ph.D. from Temple, he developed one of the nation's leading online discussion groups on African-American issues, "Afroam-L".

  • Mary Pattillo, 28, who holds a B.A. from Columbia and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, is working on a book about raising children in a black middle class neighborhood in Chicago. An article on her research, titled "Sweet Mothers and Gangbangers: Managing Crime in a Black Middle Class Neighborhood" is forthcoming in the journal Social Forces. She has studied inter- and intraracial segregation among the black middle class and has written about hip-hop and rap in Source magazine. Her future research will include the role of the black church in community organizing.

      Baker, who will develop a master's degree program in African-American Studies at Columbia, is teaching courses this academic year on race, racism and democracy, African-American intellectual history and the history of anthropology. Dent is currently teaching an introductory survey course on African-American studies, and another on African-American popular culture and black intellectuals. Dyson will offer courses on race in America and hip-hop culture when he begins teaching in the spring semester. Pattillo, currently a Research Fellow at the Poverty Research and Training Center at the University of Michigan, will begin teaching next fall.

  The forum on Oct. 7, titled "A New Conversation on Race," will begin at 4:00 P.M. in the Low Rotunda (C.U.I.D. required). The event is a response to President Clinton's Initiative on Race and Reconciliation. Marable believes that for the nation to achieve better racial understanding, the national dialogue on race and race relations that President Clinton advocates must involve at least two distinct conversations—one within the African-American community and another between blacks and whites.

  The goal would be to facilitate a broader understanding of the African-American community. "It's clear to me that the way black Americans view themselves and the opinions they hold are frequently at odds with the way the media presents them," said Marable, who has two books scheduled for release in 1998, Black Leadership and What Black America Thinks: Race, Ideology and Political Power.

  Dyson cautioned that if the national dialogue "ends up being a year of chit chat and nothing else, it will fail."

  "Yes, conversation is crucial," he said. "But then what will be the result? President Clinton talked about this as an affair of the heart. But it must become an affair of the state. The talk must translate into policy and discussions about how society will be arranged ... Who will sit at the table?"