Inclusion of the multiple voices of Blackness has been an issue since the establishment of Black Studies because some scholars argue that divisions within the Black community such as gender, ethnicity, class, and sexuality have complicated the direction of Black Studies, and separate programs that address these concerns represent a “disconnect” within the field. Question Two provides the opportunity to define and redefine the field and the ways in which it can, should, or does incorporate diverse foci. Edmund T. Gordon, Dorothy Randall Tsuruta, and James B. Stewart focused their presentations primarily on interpretations of the various studies programs identified in the question. These interpretations and the focus on intersectionality within the field sparked a vigorous discussion as meanings were debated. The diverse administrative structures, demographics, and ideological points of view limited the development of consensus about the relationship between Black Studies and partnerships with other interdisciplinary approaches.
Although intense discussions regarding what programs might be included and operate within the range of Black Studies seemed to represent discord, participants acknowledged that each department should assess the specific costs and benefits of partnership or incorporation. Some felt that the different programs were functionally synonymous with, connected to, and articulated within Black Studies. According to Beverly Guy-Sheftall, “Africana Woman’s Studies is doing Black Studies. There is not a disconnect.” There was much discussion about which programs might operate within a Black Studies context. Stewart reminded discussants “there is a difference between Black Studies and studying Black people.” He encouraged Black Studies scholars to define and maintain the identity of their departments.
As the discussion progressed, the discussants focused primarily on distinctions between Black Feminist Studies and Africana Women’s Studies. During this discussion, Crenshaw offered an analysis analogous to Stewart’s comment on Black Studies. “There’s a difference between studying Black women or having Black women in the department and Black Women’s Studies. One is simply a descriptive, factual type of study. The other one is framing that study with an analysis of power.” Karenga posed a salient group of questions that pointed the panelists towards, perhaps, the larger issues the field faces in the academy: “How do we maintain the integrity of the discipline? What are the fundamental documents that define the study? What is the primary voice? Who are the primary speakers in the discipline?” As theorists begin to answer these questions, they may begin to clarify the identity of Black Studies programs, positioning them to establish the terms of relationships with other departments.