Events Faculty and Staff IU Community

Leslie Etienne and the Center for Africana Studies and Culture at IUPUI

By Dan Grossman

The Center for Africana Studies is co-sponsoring Exploring Black Liberatory Praxis: Contemporary struggle in Africa and the African Diaspora on Wed. February 24 at 6 p.m.

The Center for Africana Studies at IUPUI, as noted in multiple news articles, has a new office in the Madam Walker Legacy Center which holds a place as a landmark of Black culture in Indianapolis.  

The Center is directed by IUPUI professor Leslie Etienne.

Dr. Etienne became the new director of the newly established Africana Studies Program at IUPUI in the fall of 2020. He works in both the School of Education’s Teacher Education Department and in the Africana Studies Program at the School of Liberal Arts.

“The research I do is based on the idea of the Black kind of emancipatory education, and that’s my general space and the other one is movement history,” Etienne said. “I’m somewhat of a movement historian, of the Black freedom movement.”  

Etienne sees parallels between the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter protests that started after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020. 

“I think it’s this long kind of continuum of history that we work in and you see people working in,” Etienne said. “So marching is nothing new. Asking for political freedom, asking for freedom from state violence; these are not new things.”

The Center for Africana Studies has been noted as sort of bridge between city of Indianapolis and the university community.

“The Center for Africana Studies and Culture at IUPUI is a reflection of our campus values and priorities,” IUPUI Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar noted in the News at IUPUI. “IUPUI is proud to be part of the Indianapolis community and to be expanding this important work at a crucial time in our city’s history.”

The center is expanding the school’s existing Africana Studies program, offering additional opportunities for professional learning, undergraduate research, public scholarship, and community-engaged cultural and research programming. 

Beyond the Big Chop, part of the Spirit & Place Festival in Nov. 2020, is just one recent example of cultural programming co-sponsored by Africana Studies. Patricia Turley, the associate director of the Olaniyan Scholars program at IUPUI, led this program on the culture and care of Black hair.

And on Feb. 24, the Center for Africana Studies will present, along with the IUPUI Office of International Studies, a program called “Exploring Black Liberatory Praxis: Contemporary struggle in Africa and the African Diaspora.” 

In this webinar, leaders of the African Student Association and the Black Student Union will be in conversation with experts from the Congo, South Africa, and the Virgin Islands. According to the organizers, the webinar will explore “the African and African Diasporan dimensions of the activism, struggle, and empowerment that correspond with contemporary and historical Black movements for freedom, self-determination, and justice.” 

RSVP here for the Feb. 24, 6 p.m. webinar.  

Etienne, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, traces some of his own interest in the African Diaspora to his lineage. His mother was born in Port au Prince, Haiti and his father was born in Point Fortin, Trinidad.

 After attending the historically Black Stokely College in Little Rock, Arkansas, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guyana, South America where he became immersed in English-speaking West Indian culture, starting in the spring of 1997.  He served as an Urban Youth Development volunteer. 

When he returned from the Peace Corps, he served as a Peace Corps recruiter in the Atlanta regional office. He then attended Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia which offered a master’s in international affairs and development. His concentration was Caribbean studies. He also received a Master of Arts in Public Administration from Troy University in Atlanta, Georgia. He went on to receive his Ph.d in Leadership and Organizational Change from Antioch University, in Yellow Springs, OH, 2012.

Like many other instructors, Etienne has found teaching during COVID-19 challenging.

“Just on a personal level I try to reach out,” he said. “I’ve tried my best just to be available and the same with colleagues, but I think we’re all going to keep hearing about this COVID fatigue. I feel like we’re all kind of receiving a little bit of that.”

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