African American Studies

Where history and culture meet the future

Students and professor sit outside chatting

African American Studies as an academic discipline has roots in the late 19th/early 20th century, with Black scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, and Zora Neale Hurston and many others contributing to the study of Black people in America.

Lake Forest College’s Department of African American Studies is dedicated to engaging the experiences, histories, cultures, movements, and identities of African-descended peoples in the United States. Majors in this area will receive a well-rounded foundation in Black history, literature, philosophy, and politics, which allows students the flexibility to approach the subject from many perspectives.

Students graduating with a major in African American Studies may apply their critical skills and knowledge to a variety of careers.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

In addition to the traditional disciplines of literature, history, music, and politics, the African American studies major asks students to investigate African American experiences through various lenses including communications, economics, philosophy, sociology/anthropology, and other areas of study to support an endless variety of ambitions. 

Access to Chicago = Access to Experience

Our proximity to the third-largest city in the US ensures that that students have an abundance of internship and experiential learning opportunities while accessing the rich cultural diversity the city offers. Students have interned with organizations such as the Haitian American Museum of Chicago and more. 

Advocacy and Application

Zaria Sydnor ’20 said, “African American studies taught me to ask questions that might be uncomfortable or result in me walking away from something.” No matter what your career aspirations are, a major in African American studies will help you critically examine the world around you. 

A degree in African American studies encourages students to take on the world at large and effect tangible change through whatever career path they choose.  

Graduates of the African American studies program have gone on to find placements in top graduate programs, engage with racial justice causes, and apply interdisciplinary knowledge to fulfilling careers. 

Students are encouraged to critically examine people, social movements, and cultural artifacts from the Harlem Renaissance to hip hop, from Phillis Wheatley to Barack Obama, from Their Eyes Were Watching God to The Autobiography of Malcom x.

African American Studies allows me to have an understanding of present economic, social, and political conditions, while providing me with the tools to see the world through various lenses.
It is essential to be educated on the harsh realities of the history and current nature of this country.
I never left an African American studies class without curiosity or more questions and a desire to learn more. It's infectious, and if you're willing to challenge your ways of thinking and open yourself up to knowledge, it'll be one of the best things you can do for yourself while at Lake Forest, and it will prepare you for life after that.
Zaria Sydnor ’20
What our students have to say
  • “The department helped me see how my voice matters, even when other people tell you it doesn't. Majoring in African American studies helped me learn how to advocate for myself and vocalize when something isn't right and needs to be changed.” —Zaria Sydnor
  • “The African American Studies minor allowed me to go into a classroom and learn more about my heritage and the extraordinary works of the African and African American people including: poetry, art, literature, and music.” —Alexus Edmonds
  • “On such a culturally diverse campus, it is imperative that students are exposed to and learn about cultures that are different from their own. The African American Studies Program is the perfect way to do this.”  —Periana Wilson

  • “The African American Studies Program helped me to better understand myself and my role in society. Black culture is so rich and more people should be learning about it.”  —Periana Wilson
  • “No matter what you’re majoring in, you can better understand your field, and the world, by minoring in African American Studies.” —Julia Mikula
  • “As a history major, my courses in African American Studies have changed the way I look at American history.” —Julia Mikula

  • “Whether or not African American studies touches on the individuals life, it is important that students know a little about the history that many of us have come from.” —Natasha Reese

  • “What I loved most about being an African American Studies minor was feeling empowered by the history of my people. For example, in my Blues Women in Literature class, I felt proud to be a black woman knowing how much they contributed to American culture.” —Imani Watson

  • “My favorite part of being an African American Studies minor was that I always had a place to go where I could relate and learn about my history.”  —Natasha Reese

  • “What I love most about this program is that I feel a sense of pride and confidence when I say that I am an African American Studies minor at a small liberal arts college.” —Alexus Edmonds

  • “I am more aware of social issues as a minor in African American Studies and it has inspired me to do some more of my own research.” —Imani Watson

What Can You Do With an African American Studies Major?

This panel covers the breadth of careers a degree in African American studies makes accessible. Moderated by African American studies chair Dr. Courtney Joseph, this session connects viewers with three panelists who share their experiences with working in the field. 

Related Programs

Contact Us

Courtney Joseph
Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies
Chair of African American Studies

Prachi Rangan
Department Assistant