African-American Studies Department Receives Commendation for its 50th Anniversary

Members of SJSU's Department of African-American Studies pose with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at San Jose City Hall.

Members of SJSU’s Department of African-American Studies pose with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at San Jose City Hall.

The SJSU Department of African-American Studies received a commendation for its 50th anniversary from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at the November 19 city council meeting held in the San Jose City Hall.

Speaking at the event, council member and SJSU alumnus Raul Peralez, said how the department is serving African-American populations and the community by engaging in intellectual traditions that take into account historical, cultural, philosophical, political, social and theoretical perspectives.

The Department of African American Studies launched its first set of classes in the fall of 1969 after a long series of campus protests heralded a new beginning for the university and its relationship to ethnic studies. San Jose State was the second university in the country to offer an African American studies program.

The department has seen a substantial increase in the number of courses and faculty members since its humble beginnings, when the department offered only 17 courses with 10 faculty members.

By December 1973, the number of courses spiked to 35 with and 1,500 students enrolled.

In February 2002, the department implemented a new program called “San Jose State University’s Model for Black Studies.” SJSU was the first of five universities in the nation to adopt such a program.

More recently, in August 2019, the department launched a new minor in black women’s studies at the urging of students who wanted to know more about the contributions of black women in American society and various fields.

Half-a-century later, the department continues to be a place rooted in intellectual endeavors, one that dives into knowledge and experiences in the African diaspora. In October, the department celebrated its 50th anniversary under the theme “The Significance of African American Studies at SJSU.” The event brought together students, faculty and alumni from the community.

Tyler Gordon poses with Steven Millner after gifting him his live painting.

Tyler Gordon poses with Steven Millner after gifting him his live painting.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez, State Senator Jim Beall, Assemblyman Ash Kalra were among a number of public officials that attended the event and awarded commendation to the department. The department also chose the occasion to celebrate Steven Millner, ’70 Sociology, for his 40 years of relentless academic service and vast contributions to the community. Millner is the department’s longest-serving faculty member who now serves as professor emeritus at SJSU.

Millner was a sociology student and also part of the SJSU protest movement that brought African American Studies to the university.

“I was humbled to receive a tribute on the occasion of the department’s 50th anniversary, and I was especially glad to be the subject of young Mister Tyler Gordon’s creativity. In a wonderful manner, his youthful energy and attention to accurate detail capture what the department has tried to stand for over the years,” said Millner.

12-year-old Tyler Gordon came under the spotlight when he made a live painting of Millner and presented it to him at the end of the event.

At the celebrations, several alumni with deep ties to the SJSU community spoke about the significance of African-American studies as well as how Steven Millner changed their lives.

Assistant Professor Wendy Thompson Taiwo talked about the history of African-American studies and that it’s important to remember and include the history of black struggle in California. While faculty members talked about the history, purpose and goals of the department, students presented original works, such as poems.