Africana Studies course

The Grassroots Experience
in American Life and Culture

Fall 2017 – AFROAM 170

Course Description

This course combines instruction in research techniques in a variety of Humanistic and Social Science disciplines, and hands-on experience with those techniques, with substantive materials focusing on the long struggle of minority populations for full participation in American cultural and public life.  As students go through the year-long course, they will be encouraged to attempt their own research investigations, and in the second semester will be required to undertake a substantial piece of individual research, under the guidance of their mentor.  (Gen. Ed. I, U)

Course Overview and Learning Objectives

Malcolm X, in his November 10, 1963, “Message to the Grassroots” speech, spoke of the emergence of a new generation of black activists (like Gloria Richardson) who organized “our people at the grassroots level” to get off “the plantation” and to gain the “freedom, justice, and equality” that is their right as human beings. Africana Studies (Black Studies), as it became institutionalized on university campuses in 1968, was born out of the dynamic combination of the intellectual and creative energies of grass root black communities demanding social change in the United States and the world. Much has changed, including in our own Du Bois Department, but one constant is our need to be connected and of service to the black community. The Grassroots Experience, which can be taken on a one-semester basis or in two courses (AFROAM 170/171), offers a learning opportunity where you can develop your capacity for life-long, engaged citizenship, partnering with communities on and off campus to work collectively for a more just society.

The Grassroots Experience is a service-learning course that fulfills requirements for the Civic Engagement & Service-Learning Certificate (applied). In this semester we will focus on how media can be used to further civic and public engagement to advance democracy and cultural awareness.  We will look at the history of the Civil Rights Movement to more recent campaigns like the Katrina response, the Jena 6, Black Lives Matter, and #BlackTwitter, etc. as to how they used media to further educate various publics around issues important to black people. In addition, students will begin to connect their research to actual community-based organizations or groups trying to become organized and design work that in the second semester will be carried out. I encourage you to work in teams but in some cases individual projects will be considered. As a General Education IU designated Social World component course it aims to help you to arrive at a better understanding of yourself and other people. It also aims to develop your writing and critical thinking skills through the lens of Historical Studies and the Social and Cultural Diversity of the United States. See for details about Gen. Ed.


  1. Adherence to the class schedule is required. Be attentive in and prepared on the days of class and discussion sections. Complete all assignments. No late papers will be accepted on GP.
  2. All University rules governing plagiarism must be observed. See UMass’s Academic Honesty policies at:
  3. As we study & discuss critical and sometimes contentious subject matter we will adhere to a policy of mutual respect. Please familiarize yourself with the UMass Code of Student Conduct – Trustee Doc. #T-95-095A and the Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Policy Statement

The University of Massachusetts Amherst prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, political belief or affiliation, veteran status, sexual orientation and any other class of individuals protected from discrimination under state or federal law in any aspect of the access to, admission, or treatment of students in its programs and activities, or in employment and application for employment. Furthermore, University policy includes prohibitions of harassment of students and employees, i.e., racial harassment, sexual harassment, and retaliation for filing complaints of discrimination.

Required Texts

Ready for Revolution by Kwame Ture/Michael Thelwell

As well as other selections to be found online or in a course reader on reserve in the Du Bois Library.

IU designation:

The threefold goals of this course are: 1. to expose students to the recent studies of grassroots political consciousness especially of younger people or the so-called Hip Hop Generation, 2. to introduce students to Afro-American Studies, which is an essential tool for investigating Diasporic groups, and 3. To offer students experiences in thinking critically about scholar-activism, engaged intellectual work, and community-based and community-directed learning.

  1. The course is broadly interdisciplinary as it draws upon methods and knowledge practices from both the social sciences and the humanities.
  1. AFROAM 170 educates students about the tools of dissent, which is the essential expression of popular power by which both authoritarian rule is challenged and democracy created or revitalized.
  1. To encourage pluralistic perspectives in order to recognize our culture in relation to other cultures, the course shall reach beyond the perspectives of the mainstream Western tradition (Europe and North America). They may focus on the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East, or the descendants of those peoples or other minorities in Western industrial societies (not including the U. S.). They may focus on the differential life experiences of those whose national, geographic or economic status places them out of the mainstream of Western industrial societies.

Some questions covered in this course:

What is activism? Why does it exist in almost every democratic and some autocratic society? Why does it continue today even in the form of the so-called “Arab Spring” and labor unions fighting austerity measures here in the U.S.?

 Over the course of the semester, students will submit several 2-page response papers on the readings, due in the class during which these readings will be discussed or in the form of a journal. These online or actual printed papers ask students to briefly summarize the readings and then offer comments, questions, and analysis. Papers will be graded on compliance with the assignment, neatness of presentation, critical thinking, and originality. Students will be allowed to resubmit their response papers or final papers, rewritten based on the professor’s feedback.

  1. A calendar/outline for all assignments: See below.
  2. A listing with descriptions and due dates for all requirements: See below.
  3. Bibliographical citations for texts and readings used in the course: See below.
  4. Grading criteria and points-to-grade values: Papers will be evaluated on the basis of clarity, critical thinking, originality, and compliance with the assignment. A (95 and up); A- (90-94); B+ (86-89); B (85); B- (80-84); C+ (76-79); C (75); C- (70-74); D+ (66-69); D (65); D- (60-64).

Course requirements:

Attendance: 20%

Class presentation (students may choose their date of presentation): 20%

2-page response papers on readings, due in the class during which these readings will be discussed (1 can be missed or dropped): 30%

Final project on a mutually agreeable topic (due last day of class): 30%

No prerequisites. Class Schedule with Assigned Readings forthcoming.

Syllabus copyright © 2017 Du Bois Department