African American Studies, B.A.

Program Code: AAST_BA

Program Description

This major helps students achieve a critical understanding of the forms of knowledge, culture, and social organization that African-Americans have produced, and of the social conditions that have supported and constrained this work. Using interdisciplinary approaches as well as methods drawn from the traditional disciplines, the major exposes students to the ideas, institutions, movements, and practices that African-American peoples have used to survive and shape the modern world. The African American Studies curriculum promotes the critical faculties, cultural competencies, and historical sensibilities of its students, and thereby equips them for success in graduate school, professional school, and the workplace.

What is African American Studies?

African American Studies is an intellectual field of inquiry that examines the history of people of African descent from the colonial period through the present; how systems of racial inequality are produced through state policy, traditional western scholarly disciplines, and popular discourse; and the social, political and cultural movements that black people have developed to identify and resist the unequal material and political conditions that shape black social life in the African Diaspora. The undergraduate major and minor provide a strong foundation in the key theoretical concepts in the discipline, the historical formation of African American Studies as an interdisciplinary field of study, and prepares students to apply what they have learned in the classroom, in independent research and in internships with social justice/service organizations.

You Might Like This Program If...

  • You are passionate about learning more about the history, cultures, and political struggles of people of African-descent in the West.
  • You are interested in understanding how racism operates structurally and shapes the social experiences and life chances of black communities.
  • You want to study social, cultural, and political movements throughout the African Diaspora.
  • You are interested in pursuing independent research or internships with non-profit, research, and community-based organizations committed to racial equity and social justice.

Entrance to Major

In order to be eligible for entrance to this major, a student must:

  1. attain at least a C (2.00) cumulative grade-point average for all courses taken at the University; and
  2. have third-semester classification.


Degree Requirements

For the Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies, a minimum of 120 credits is required:

Requirement Credits
General Education 45
Electives 15-21
Bachelor of Arts Degree Requirements 24
Requirements for the Major 36

0-6 of the 45 credits for General Education are included in the Requirements for the Major. This includes: 0-3 credits of GS courses; and 0-3 credits of GH courses.

3 of the 24 credits for Bachelor of Arts Degree Requirements are included in the Requirements for the Major, General Education, or Electives and 0-12 credits are included in Electives if foreign language proficiency is demonstrated by examination.

Per Senate Policy 83-80.5, the college dean or campus chancellor and program faculty may require up to 24 credits of course work in the major to be taken at the location or in the college or program where the degree is earned. For more information, check the Recommended Academic Plan for your intended program.

General Education

Connecting career and curiosity, the General Education curriculum provides the opportunity for students to acquire transferable skills necessary to be successful in the future and to thrive while living in interconnected contexts. General Education aids students in developing intellectual curiosity, a strengthened ability to think, and a deeper sense of aesthetic appreciation. These are requirements for all baccalaureate students and are often partially incorporated into the requirements of a program. For additional information, see the General Education Requirements section of the Bulletin and consult your academic adviser.

The keystone symbol Keystone/General Education Course appears next to the title of any course that is designated as a General Education course. Program requirements may also satisfy General Education requirements and vary for each program.

Foundations (grade of C or better is required.)

  • Quantification (GQ): 6 credits
  • Writing and Speaking (GWS): 9 credits

Knowledge Domains

  • Arts (GA): 6 credits
  • Health and Wellness (GHW): 3 credits
  • Humanities (GH): 6 credits
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences (GS): 6 credits
  • Natural Sciences (GN): 9 credits

Integrative Studies (may also complete a Knowledge Domain requirement)

  • Inter-Domain or Approved Linked Courses: 6 credits

University Degree Requirements

First Year Engagement

All students enrolled in a college or the Division of Undergraduate Studies at University Park, and the World Campus are required to take 1 to 3 credits of the First-Year Seminar, as specified by their college First-Year Engagement Plan.

Other Penn State colleges and campuses may require the First-Year Seminar; colleges and campuses that do not require a First-Year Seminar provide students with a first-year engagement experience.

First-year baccalaureate students entering Penn State should consult their academic adviser for these requirements.

Cultures Requirement    

6 credits are required and may satisfy other requirements

  • United States Cultures: 3 credits
  • International Cultures: 3 credits

Writing Across the Curriculum

3 credits required from the college of graduation and likely prescribed as part of major requirements.

Total Minimum Credits

A minimum of 120 degree credits must be earned for a baccalaureate degree. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 credits. Students should consult with their college or department adviser for information on specific credit requirements.

Quality of Work

Candidates must complete the degree requirements for their major and earn at least a 2.00 grade-point average for all courses completed within their degree program.

Limitations on Source and Time for Credit Acquisition

The college dean or campus chancellor and program faculty may require up to 24 credits of course work in the major to be taken at the location or in the college or program where the degree is earned. Credit used toward degree programs may need to be earned from a particular source or within time constraints (see Senate Policy 83-80). For more information, check the Suggested Academic Plan for your intended program.

B.A. Degree Requirements

Foreign Language (0-12 credits): Student must attain 12th credit level of proficiency in one foreign language. See the Placement Policy for Penn State Foreign Language Courses.

B.A. Fields (9 credits): Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arts, Foreign Languages, Natural Sciences, Quantification (may not be taken in the area of the student's primary major; foreign language credits in this category must be in a second foreign language or beyond the 12th credit level of proficiency in the first language)

Other Cultures (0-3 credits): Select 3 credits from approved list. Students may count courses in this category in order to meet other major, minor, elective, or General Education requirements, except for the General Education US/IL requirement.​

Requirements for the Major

A grade of C or better is required for all courses in the major. To graduate, a student enrolled in the major must earn at least a C grade in each course designated by the major as a C-required course, as specified by Senate Policy 82-44.

Prescribed Courses
Prescribed Courses: Require a grade of C or better
AFAM 100NBlack Freedom Struggles Keystone/General Education Course3
AFAM 110NIntroduction to African American Studies Keystone/General Education Course3
AFAM/HIST 152African American History Keystone/General Education Course3
Additional Courses
Additional Courses: Require a grade of C or better
Select 3 credits from the following:3
African American Women Keystone/General Education Course
Women of the African Diaspora Keystone/General Education Course
Racism and Sexism Keystone/General Education Course
Select 3 credits from the following:3
Special Topics
Research Methods in Sociology 1
Select 3 credits from the following:3
Afro-American Studies Seminar
Research Project
Area of Concentration
Select 12 credits from one of the following four areas of concentration, and 6 more credits from any of the other areas. A minimum of 12 credits should be AFAM courses, and at least 12 of these credits must be at the 400-level or above. 218
1. Gender and Sexuality
African American Women Keystone/General Education Course
Women of the African Diaspora Keystone/General Education Course
Racism and Sexism Keystone/General Education Course
Spirit, Space, Survival: Contemporary Black Women
African American Theatre
Race, Gender and Science
Women, Gender, and Feminisms in Africa Keystone/General Education Course
Select 3 credits at the 400-level in consultation with your adviser
2. Humanities
African Diaspora Religions and Spiritualities Keystone/General Education Course
The Life and Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. Keystone/General Education Course
The Life and Thought of Malcolm X Keystone/General Education Course
Workshop: Theatre in Diverse Cultures Keystone/General Education Course
Freedom's First Generation: African American Life and Work, from the Civil War to World War II Keystone/General Education Course
African Americans in the New Jim Crow Era, 1968-present
From Folk Shouts and Songs to Hip Hop Poetry
African American Theatre
Contemporary African American Communication
African American Philosophy
The Post-World War II Civil Rights Movement
Slavery and the Literary Imagination
3. Social Sciences and Community Development
Diversity and Health
Racial and Ethnic Inequality in America
Black Liberation and American Foreign Policy
Between Nation and Empire: The Caribbean in the 20th Century
Politics of Affirmative Action
Culture and World Politics
Economics of Discrimination
Ethnic Minorities and Schools in the United States
Ethnic and Racial Politics Keystone/General Education Course
Policy Making and Evaluation
Race, Ethnicity and Culture Keystone/General Education Course
4. Migration and Diaspora
Women of the African Diaspora Keystone/General Education Course
Afro-Hispanic Civilization
Slavery and Freedom in the Black Atlantic Keystone/General Education Course
Introduction to the Caribbean Keystone/General Education Course
Black Liberation and American Foreign Policy
Between Nation and Empire: The Caribbean in the 20th Century
Introduction to Contemporary Africa Keystone/General Education Course
Modern African History Keystone/General Education Course
Globalization and Its Implications
Special Topics
Political Processes in Underdeveloped Systems

Integrated B.A. in African American Studies and M.P.P. in Public Policy

Requirements for the Integrated B.A. in African American Studies and M.P.P. in Public Policy can be found in the Graduate Bulletin.

Program Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to critically reflect on and think about historical and contemporary materials and events throughout the African diaspora.
  • Students will be able to identify and synthesize national and global influences on people of African descent.
  • Students will be able to be sensitive to and appreciate the perspectives, cultures, institutions, and intellectual agency of people of African descent
  • Students will be able to articulate clear and compelling perspectives using strong research, critical thinking, analytical skills, academic writing, and public speaking.
  • Students will develop an intersectional analytical framework, understanding the connectedness between race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, nationality, and age.
  • Students will engage with campus, local, national, and global events in ways that encourages service and promotes their ability to be scholar-activists.

Academic Advising

The objectives of the university’s academic advising program are to help advisees identify and achieve their academic goals, to promote their intellectual discovery, and to encourage students to take advantage of both in-and out-of class educational opportunities in order that they become self-directed learners and decision makers.

Both advisers and advisees share responsibility for making the advising relationship succeed. By encouraging their advisees to become engaged in their education, to meet their educational goals, and to develop the habit of learning, advisers assume a significant educational role. The advisee's unit of enrollment will provide each advisee with a primary academic adviser, the information needed to plan the chosen program of study, and referrals to other specialized resources.


University Park

Liberal Arts Academic Advising
Use the Liberal Arts Majors and Minors web page to see the contact information for the specific adviser(s) of this program

Suggested Academic Plan

The suggested academic plan(s) listed on this page are the plan(s) that are in effect during the 2021-22 academic year. To access previous years' suggested academic plans, please visit the archive to view the appropriate Undergraduate Bulletin edition (Note: the archive only contain suggested academic plans beginning with the 2018-19 edition of the Undergraduate Bulletin).

African American Studies, B.A. at University Park Campus

The course series listed below provides only one of the many possible ways to move through this curriculum. The University may make changes in policies, procedures, educational offerings, and requirements at any time. This plan should be used in conjunction with your degree audit (accessible in LionPATH as either an Academic Requirements or What If report). Please consult with a Penn State academic adviser on a regular basis to develop and refine an academic plan that is appropriate for you.

First Year
ENGL 15, 30H, ESL 15, ENGL 137H, or CAS 137H3World Language Level 24
AFAM 152 or HIST 152*3CAS 100, ENGL 138T, or CAS 138T3
World Language Level 14AFAM 101N, WMNST 101N, AFAM 102, WMNST 102, AFAM 103, WMNST 103, or SOC 103*3
General Education Course3AFAM 110N*3
First Year Seminar3General Education Quantification Course3
 16 16
Second Year
World Language Level 34General Education Quantification Course3
AFAM 100N*3SOC 207*3
Elective3General Education Course3
General Education Course3General Education Course3
General Education Course3BA Knowledge Domain Course3
 16 15
Third Year
AFAM any or AFAM elective*3BA Knowledge Domain Course3
BA Other Cultures3ENGL 202A, 202B, 202C, or 202D3
General Education Course3General Education Course3
 15 15
Fourth Year
BA Knowledge Domain Course3AFAM any or AFAM elective*3
AFAM 4XX*3AFAM 401*3
AFAM 4XX*3General Education Course3
General Education Health and Wellness (GHW)1.5General Education Health and Wellness (GHW)1.5
Elective6General Education Course3
 16.5 15.5
Total Credits 125

University Requirements and General Education Notes:

US and IL are abbreviations used to designate courses that satisfy University Requirements (United States and International Cultures).

W, M, X, and Y are the suffixes at the end of a course number used to designate courses that satisfy University Writing Across the Curriculum requirement.

GWS, GQ, GHW, GN, GA, GH, and GS are abbreviations used to identify General Education program courses. General Education includes Foundations (GWS and GQ) and Knowledge Domains (GHW, GN, GA, GH, GS, and Integrative Studies). Foundations courses (GWS and GQ) require a grade of ‘C’ or better.

Integrative Studies courses are required for the General Education program. N is the suffix at the end of a course number used to designate an Inter-Domain course and Z is the suffix at the end of a course number used to designate a Linked course.

All incoming Schreyer Honors College first-year students at University Park will take ENGL 137H/CAS 137H in the fall semester and ENGL 138T/CAS 138T in the spring semester. These courses carry the GWS designation and replace both ENGL 30H and CAS 100. Each course is 3 credits.

Bachelor of Arts Requirements:

Bachelor of Arts students must take 9 credits in Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Fields (Humanities; Social and Behavioral Sciences; Arts; World Languages [2nd language or beyond the 12th credit level of proficiency in the 1st]; Natural Sciences; Quantification). The B.A. Fields courses may not be taken in the area of the student’s primary major. See your adviser and the Degree Requirements section of this Bulletin.

Bachelor of Arts students must take 3 credits in Other Cultures.
See your adviser and the full list of courses approved as Other Cultures courses.

Advising Note:
All incoming freshmen must take a First-Year Seminar (FYS) during Fall or Spring of their first year.  Academic advisers can provide a list of FYS being offered and help the student enroll.  Most FYS in the College of the Liberal Arts are worth 3 cr. and count as a General Humanities (GH) or General Social Sciences (GS) course.  For this reason, the FYS is not listed separately on this eight-semester plan; most students will be able to fulfill the FYS requirement while also fulfilling a GH or GS requirement.

Career Paths


Graduates in African American Studies go on to pursue a wide-range of career paths including public policy, the law, medicine, public health, social work, criminal justice, social justice advocacy, transnational human rights, community-based organizing, higher education, environmental justice, arts/entertainment, or scholarly research in the social sciences and the humanities.

Opportunities for Graduate Studies

Many students opt to pursue graduate degrees in African American Studies because they want to teach in African American Studies programs at the college or university-level or they want to teach from a critical race theory perspective in traditional disciplines in the social sciences, humanities, law, medicine or other professional programs.


Professional Resources


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University Park, PA 16802