For many students, the best classes are those in which the professor teaches his or her specialty and can share the passion for the subject to inspire the students. For All-College Honors students, “African-American Lives and Culture” was that kind of class, times two. The class benefited from the African-American literature expertise of Robert Butler, PhD, professor of English, and the African-American history expertise of Bruce Dierenfield, PhD, professor of history and Honors Program director. Thanks to their teaching partnership, the students had access to a wealth of information about the lives of influential African-Americans and numerous aspects of African-American culture from the slave period, through the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements. By using a variety of readings, documentaries and films, students learned about many aspects of the African-American experience.
Drs. Butler and Dierenfield greatly enhanced student learning by providing numerous co-curricular activities. For example, they visited the famed Michigan Street Baptist Church, learned how to play West African drums, heard a jazz quintet at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, listened to a Cornell University professor speak about music and the Civil Rights Movement, and attended a soul-moving Sunday morning worship service at St. John Baptist Church on the East Side. They ended the semester with an outing to see the musical Stompin’ at the Savoy at the Paul Robeson Theatre. Denise Rogers, payroll associate in the Controller’s Office, and her husband, Wilbert, even provided the students with a tasty “soul food” dinner. While most of the activities were optional, students clearly appreciated the variety of experiences and attended many more than were required.
By combining their enthusiasm and expertise with the rich cultural opportunities in Buffalo, Drs. Butler and Dierenfield created an exciting learning opportunity at Canisius, which they hope to offer again in fall 2017.
Submitted by: Sara Morris, PhD, associate vice president, academic affairs