“Barry was emphatic that the College was committed to building an Africana Studies Program that would be central to its academic mission.”
It gives me great pleasure to share my reflections on Barry Mills following fourteen transformative years as Bowdoin’s president. This reflection focuses on interactions with Barry in my capacity as the outside chair appointed in 2008 to work with colleagues to rebuild the Africana Studies Program, midway into Barry’s tenure as president. While I worked primarily with Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd and faculty colleagues, I had several notable interactions with Barry where he shared his vision for the program. The first interaction occurred during my visit as candidate for the position of director of the Africana Studies Program in December 2007. Barry was emphatic that the College was committed to building an Africana Studies Program that would be central to its academic mission. When I visited the College after being offered the position, Barry was even more excited about the task at hand. I was intrigued by the prospect of working with a president, a dean, and faculty that articulated a vision that would make Africana Studies a central component of their college’s academic mission.
My final interaction with Barry to discuss the program was in June 2010. Although the Africana Studies Committee, with strong support from Cristle and Jim Higginbotham, had achieved so much—including designing an innovative curriculum, defining a program mission, making an excellent tenure-track hire, and appointing a postdoc—Barry suggested that we take advantage of the program’s momentum on campus. In the following years, we made a final critical tenure-track appointment, which brought our core faculty to four members, embarked on the implementation of our new curriculum, appointed several postdocs, and made notable outreach to the College.
Barry's legacy for Africana studies at Bowdoin is simple but profound: Bowdoin must have a rigorous Africana Studies Program within its excellent academic curriculum. The entire enterprise, Barry reasoned, would require careful crafting of details: the structure of the program must be sustainable in the long term; its curriculum intellectually sophisticated, possessing an inclusive and rational framework to engage the difficult questions of race and social justice in America’s rapidly changing society. I believe the program reflects Barry’s commitment to academic excellence in the College, by putting our students first, encouraging teaching excellence, and supporting outstanding scholarship.
If the post-Bowdoin achievements of our former majors and minors are any indication of the program’s success, then I believe Bowdoin—under Barry’s leadership—has made a worthy investment in its Africana Studies Program. Former Africana Studies majors and minors are PhD students in leading graduate schools; several are enrolled in law, business, medical, and veterinary schools; several others work as teachers and for nonprofit institutions. Although these remarkable accomplishments reflect the hard work of our students, the excellent mentoring of our faculty, and Bowdoin’s overall amazing education, I am convinced that the person at the apex matters a great deal. One cannot overemphasize the fact that Barry’s deep commitment to the program has been critical to the success of our students and faculty.
Africana Studies Program Director, 2008-2012
Geoffrey Canada Professor of Africana Studies and History