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Black and Latino Studies kicks off four-part conversation series

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In the discussion, Lewin and Persaud interacted with the audience and discussed the evolution of multicultural studies.

Baruch College’s Department of Black and Latino Studies commenced its “Conversations & Coffee” series last week, kicking off a robust discussion about the work of the department’s faculty and beyond.

The series’ first iteration began on Monday, Nov. 7 and featured a conversation between professor Arthur Lewin and Baruch alumnus Rajen Persaud. The department’s associate professor Regina A. Bernard-Carreno moderated. Audience interaction was encouraged throughout the entirety of the event, which set the tone for upcoming talks taking place throughout November and early December.

“The goal of Black Studies is to make it self-superfluous or self-unnecessary,” said Lewin, who has worked at Baruch since 1979. “Black Studies is related to something called multicultural studies, and when you look at the multicultural studies it is Black Studies, Latino Studies, Native American Studies and Chicano Studies, but the first and most potent one is Black Studies.”

“The goal of Black Studies is to make it self-superfluous or self-unnecessary,” said Lewin, who has worked at Baruch since 1979. “Black Studies is related to something called multicultural studies, and when you look at the multicultural studies it is Black Studies, Latino Studies, Native American Studies and Chicano Studies, but the first and most potent one is Black Studies.”

Lewin and Persaud also discussed the origins of Black Studies, as well as the necessity of the subject in a world where modern academia is dominated by Eurocentric and white male-oriented points of view.

“Black Studies began in two places, on the West coast and on the East coast. On the West coast it began at San Francisco State [University] and on the East coast it began right here in CUNY,” said Lewin.

According to Lewin, the epicenter of Black Studies on the East coast began nearly 50 years ago at the City College of New York. There, the movement was known as Black and Puerto Rican Studies.

Despite the existence of Black and Latino Studies in the present day, both Lewin and Persaud agreed that there was a lack of black and Latino professors teaching in mainstream academia. According to Lewin, multicultural studies are the antithesis of the U.S. university system due to college history curricula often excluding much of the history of black people.

In order to better describe the gap between mainstream academia and Black and Latino Studies, Lewin used the concept of a math problem.

Motioning to a square tile on the floor, Lewin asked audience members to assume that the tile was one foot long. With that in mind, Lewin asked everyone to calculate the length of the tile’s diagonal. If the square is one foot long, then the diagonal of the square is an irrational number.

“The side of the square and the diagonal are incommensurable, they cannot exist simultaneously. That is the same thing with Black Studies and the mainstream academy,” said Lewin. “It’s like two separate realities, but we have got to square the circle and I think we can do it.”

“We are destroying ourselves. If we can't see the other side, there will be no world for our children. It just won't be here.”

Lewin and Persaud also conversed on how academia and teaching has changed and evolved over the years. According to Lewin, it was not always possible to earn a doctorate in Black Studies.

Despite the obvious subject matter of Black and Latino Studies, the conversation emphasized the fact that Black and Latino Studies is not just for black and Latino people. Teaching multicultural studies is about unearthing historical truth for all people, regardless of their background.

Lewin also mentioned that the CUNY system has issues, as it does not hire a very diverse pool of professors. However, the CUNY system is still the “epicenter of the action” when it comes to the development of Black and Latino Studies.

The remainder of the series will feature activists, historians, poets, researchers and scholars from the realm of Black and Latino Studies. On Nov. 16, the conversation series will continue at 6 p.m. in NVC 4-249. It will feature Black and Latino Studies department assistant professor Tshombe Miles and Nassau Community College professor David Goodman, who holds a doctorate in African history from Indiana University. During the event, the two will speak on the topic of race and identity in Morocco.

Nov. 21 will feature a discussion between professor Karanja Keita Carroll and professor Henry Williams at 6 p.m. in NVC 4-249. The conversation will pertain to The Black Arts Movement, Black Studies, Black Lives Matter and disruptions in the black freedom struggle.

A final event will take place on Dec. 6 in NVC 4-175. Beginning at 2:30 p.m., professors Lourdes Gil and Tonia Leon will lead a discussion entitled “Across the Great Divide: An Intercultural Dialogue.”

All events are free but an RSVP via the Department of Black and Latinos Studies is required.

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