Social Engagement Initiative

By focusing on specific problems (poverty, educational disparities, health, etc.) faced by people of African descent within the United States and globally, Social Engagement courses and the Social Engagement thesis seek to wed academic study with practical experience. Through coordinated interdisciplinary coursework, student research-symposia, summer abroad, and interaction with different AAAS faculty as well as faculty in other schools at Harvard (for example, the School of Public Health, Medical School, and the School of Education), students explore and reflect upon an on-the-ground perspective to intellectual work.

Classes Designated as Social Engagement

African and African American Studies 20

Introduction to African Languages and Cultures.
John M. Mugane

This introduction to African languages and cultures explores how sub-Saharan Africans use language to understand, organize, and transmit (culture, history, etc.) indigenous knowledge to successive generations. Language serves as a road map to comprehending how social, political, and economic institutions and processes develop: from kinship structures and the evolution of political offices to trade relations and the transfer of environmental knowledge.
As a Social Engagement course, AAAS 20 will wed scholarly inquiry and academic study to practical experience and personal involvement in the community. Students will be given the opportunity to study Africans, their languages, and their cultures from the ground up, not only through textbooks and data sets but through personal relationships, cultural participation, and inquisitive explorations of local African heritage communities. Throughout the semester you will be asked to employ video production, ethnographic research, creative writing, “social-portraiture,” GIS mapping, and linguistic study as you engage with Africans, their languages, and their cultures. By examining linguistic debates and cultural traditions and interrogating their import in the daily lives of Boston-area Africans, we hope to bridge the divide between grand theories and everyday practices, between intellectual debates and the lived experiences of individuals, between the American academy and the African world. Ultimately, this course aims to place Africans themselves in the center of the academic study of Africa.

African and African American Studies 97

Sophomore Tutorial.

This course will examine the complexity of contemporary racial and ethnic experience in the United States, focusing on self-identified "mixed-race" groups and voluntary immigrant groups from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean (e.g. from Brazil, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Nigeria). Interdisciplinary course readings will introduce key theoretical issues in the social sciences and humanities, such as cultural relativism, the social construction of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, and the negotiation of identity in diaspora and minority settings. Assignments will include both written work and social engagement with local communities resulting in multimedia projects.
Note: Required for concentrators in African and African American Studies. Open to all undergraduates.

African and African American Studies 107

Poverty, Race, and Health.
David Williams

This course critically examines the health status of the poor, and of African Americans and other socially disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups in the US. Attention will be focused on the patterned ways in which the health of these groups is embedded in the social, cultural, political, and economic contexts, and arrangements of US society. Topics covered include the meaning and measurement of race, the ways in which racism affects health, the historic uses of minorities in medical research, how acculturation and migration affects health, and an examination of the specific health problems that disproportionately affect nondominant racial groups.

Note: This course, when taken for a letter grade, meets the General Education requirements for Societies of the World, the Core area requirement for Foreign Cultures, and the Ethnic Studies Secondary Field Requirement.