What is it like to study African American studies at Princeton?

I’d love to have some perspective on what it is like to study African American studies?

Hey there - cool question. I earned the certificate in AAS in 2006 alongside my history BA, back before there was an option to major in AAS. This department was absolutely the most positive part of my academic experience at Princeton. I sat in class, lectures, and seminars with instructors like Cornel West, Nell Irvin Painter, Valerie Smith, Daphne Brooks, and even Toni Morrison. Coursework ranged from the traditional great works of James Baldwin, to unpacking the depth of message in Dave Chappelle’s television skits.

Here’s the thing - American history, as it tends to be taught, leaves too much of the story out. We dig deep into wars and politics and the framers of our nation, so on and so forth, but something always felt missing to me. A year or so into my experience at Princeton, I realized that I was ending up in these AAS classes as a way of filling in the gaps, of getting the philosophical and sociological perspectives that were not happening in my regular history classes. Plus, I had spent my whole life before college studying jazz music, and to get to better understand the conditions that created the art that I felt so passionately about was an essential part of my growth at that time in my life. I made it a goal to shape my history department junior and senior independent research fit in sync with pursuing the AAS certificate.

If you go to a school that offers AAS or Black Studies courses, take one. Even if you plan on going into something completely unrelated to the academic study of Blackness in America, there are classes that will add value to your overall understanding of historical systematic oppression that can be applied to other circumstances. I’d say this is particularly important if you plan on staying in America for any amount of time beyond your degree. It’s a big part of our story, and the scholars in this area right now are all stunningly brilliant and doing work that matters so much beyond the limits of the ivory towers.