Department of Africana Studies

Our History

The Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre was born out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and demands by students, faculty, and the community that the University reflect the contributions, histories, and demographic realities of the Black population in its curriculum, student body, and faculty.






In 1968, guided by Charles Nichols, 65 of the 85 Black students enrolled at Brown and Pembroke marched down College Hill to the Congdon Street Baptist Church to protest the lack of support provided by the University. The students remained for three days, at which point the administration agreed to increase admit rates for Black students, hire more Black staff and faculty, increase financial support, and create an intellectual home for Black studies on campus.

Despite moving into a permanent home in Churchill House in 1971, the status of the program remained tenuous. 1975 saw a takeover of University Hall where students from a wide range of backgrounds pressed the University to make good on the promises of 1968. Campus activism continued to gain momentum through the 80’s, including an occupation of the John Carter Brown Library in 1985. The second half of the decade saw a renewed commitment by the University to turn its focus to diversity on campus. In 1986, tenured faculty were formally appointed to Afro-American Studies, and Rites and Reason Theatre was incorporated into the program.

The program continued as Afro-American Studies until 2001 when the University granted the program departmental status and renamed it Africana Studies to reflect its significant orientation toward the study of the African Diaspora in its broadest definition. The Department, now on more stable footing, was able to continue to support students through their education at Brown.

The 2000’s saw growth in faculty numbers and the continued productivity of Rites and Reason Theatre. In 2011, the graduate program was initiated, marking yet another pivotal point of growth in the life of the Department.  In 2020, Rites and Reason Theatre celebrated its 50th anniversary, marking it as one of the longest operating standing Black theatres in America.

Watch Rites and Reason Theatre's production of Walkout! a performance exploring the 1968 student protests that led to the formation of the Africana Studies Department.
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Rites and Reason Theatre is a research and development theatre producing new creative works that analyze and articulate the experiences and expressions of the African Diaspora.
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The graduate program trains students to become skilled and informed scholars poised to make significant contributions to academic and nonacademic communities.
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Today's Partnerships

We maintain on campus partnerships with the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and the Ruth J. Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, two University Centers dedicated to specific inquiry into issues and artistic expression surrounding their respective topics. The department often collaborates with the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, the Brown-Trinity MFA Programs in Acting and Directing, and is part of the Brown Arts Institute.