Campus, Literature

The Need for Black Humanists: What Tuskegee University’s College of Arts and Sciences Has to Offer

In a world characterized by its placed importance on the fields of science and mathematics, the humanities are often perceived to be lackluster and unprofitable. Specifically for black students, they are often encouraged to memorize math formulas and understand bodily functions rather than analyzing a novel written a number of years ago. Not only has society deemed these two areas to be separate entities (rather than two elements that work together), but it has minimized the importance of the humanities; this is detrimental to the progression and well-being of society.

Tuskegee University’s College of Arts and Sciences is the university’s largest college with roughly 800 students enrolled. It is comprised of 16 programs, containing curricula oriented towards sciences, mathematics, fine arts and the humanities. Most of the students are studying in the field of Biology with Communication being the next largest area studied. When asked to portray a general picture of Tuskegee University’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Dean Prakash explains that “it’s a college that kind of sits on two legs.” Referred to as CAS – Arts and Sciences – this college combines the two seemingly opposite areas of study into a space where they can be explored simultaneously. Biology students may find themselves rushing from their Organic Biology Lab to their World Civilization course. To have a program where students can engage in a plethora of differing courses illustrates the cooperation present between the various areas of study in CAS.

Undeniably, it is important that Black students study in the fields of science and mathematics so they can become doctors and researchers. Yet, it is equally important to have Black students study the humanities so we can have more Black politicians advocating for our civil rights, Black historians establishing a space for our history to be preserved and discussed, and Black musicians and artists penetrating the white-dominated sphere of fine arts. Historically, Tuskegee University has had a science-oriented approach considering the importance of agriculture, the legacy of George Washington Carver and the Tuskegee Airmen. Yet, Tuskegee University has also produced well-celebrated and notable figures in the humanities such as the novelist Ralph Ellison and the photographer P.H. Polk; there is “great history” rooted in the HBCU experience.

Not only are Black humanists necessary in society, but Black scientists must also have an element of humanism in order to be successful. As Dean Prakash puts it, “it’s not just becoming a good doctor … but to understand … [that] empathy is a very important component of being a good doctor.” The ability to understand and have empathy for others are skills that are acquired by examining the history of civilizations, reading texts written by a diverse assortment of authors, and learning the numerous methods of communicating with others. A doctor with no humanity becomes like a machine, just carrying out its functions.

That being said, Dean Prakash outlines some of the challenges that CAS faces: the need for modern infrastructure, improved funding, and implementation of further resources. CAS is improving but not as fast as society is developing. Yet, Dean Prakash maintains that the future is bright for the College of Arts and Sciences. In recent years, the college has been receiving more funding to aid in helping students in CAS. Specifically in the summer of 2021, Google donated a $5 million grant directed towards increasing opportunities for Black students in the area of STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). There is an overall positive trend concerning funding for the college. As Dean Prakash states, CAS refuses to be “complicit in accepting mediocrity,” and aims to emit excellent and successful Black scientists and humanists.