Alyssa Washington

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Winthrop University is offering a new course for the fall 2019 semester intended to give students deeper insight, appreciation and understanding of the history of African-American women.

The course, entitled Black Women in America, is cross-listed in the history, African-American studies and women’s and gender studies programs.

The course examines the history of African-American women from the 1600s to present day through readings and discussions, covering topics such as race, identity, gender, socialism, politics and education.

“Winthrop itself has such a rich history in terms of integration, race relations and things of that sort,” said Dr. Otha Jennifer Dixon-McKnight, an assistant professor of history and instructor for the course.

She said the class is significant and unique to Winthrop.

“At a place like Winthrop, where our student population is about 30 percent African-American and the majority of those students are African-American women,” she said. “I think it’s important to have the course available to students who not only can see themselves represented in the content, but also to students who have interest in this particular area.”

Dixon-McKnight said she hopes she can introduce her students to historic figures and provide them with information that will stay with them.

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“Black Women in White America: A Documentary History” is one of five required texts for the course (photo: Alyssa Washington).

“I’m hoping that when my students think about what history is…they’re able to think about it as a multilayered, in many ways a living and breathing thing, as opposed to just a boring narrative about a whole bunch of people that are already dead,” she said.

Dr. Jennifer Leigh Disney, director of the women’s and gender studies program, said it’s a “big deal” to have a course that is specific to black women in America.

She said the course offers a new collective way for various departments to work together and allow students of all majors and concentrations to collaborate.

“The more courses we can teach that come from an intersectional perspective or that examine history from the perspective in politics, on the perspective of those diverse populations and contiguous groups and our country, the better. The smarter we all will be and the more accurate reflection we will have of our nation’s history,” Disney said.

Paul Bartolotta, a senior history major, said the class offers diverse points of view.

“I’ve had Dr. Dixon in the past and I love the way she teaches,” Bartolotta said. “I’ve never really had an emphasis on the study of women. We never hear the woman’s perspective, the woman’s side of it.”

He said the African-American studies classes he has taken have left an impression on him.

“I always took into consideration that everyone’s got a different experience,” Bartolotta said. “I’ve learned from the first class I’ve taken, to where I’m at now, that there’s no experience like the black experience.”

Dixon-McKnight said she hopes the Black Women in America course will be offered in future semesters.

“I am going to, in the next few weeks, start the paperwork to have it added to the course catalog and then it will be added to the history department course rotation, the African-American studies course rotation and I’m hopeful that women’s studies will keep it in the women’s studies course rotation as well,” Dixon-McKnight said.

“Because it touches so many different disciplines, that gives us a way to better service students and it gives us an opportunity to pull in students from all different perspectives.”