Taking the lead in African American Studies

African American Studies fulfills this senior’s passion

By Kate Smith , CLAS’12, CLAS Today

Senior Antoine Gary has a distinction that few will earn at UConn: He’ll be one of the first to graduate with an African American Studies major.

“I chose African American Studies because I wanted to learn more about myself and the people of African descent,” said Gary, who says his interests lie in the cultural, social, economic, and political issues of concern to African Americans.

Gary is one of four majors in the African American Studies Program, all of whom are seniors. The major focuses on the experiences of Africans around the world through the humanities, social sciences and the arts, with an emphasis on African Americans and the ideals of equality, democracy and humane values. Students take a wide variety of classes from many departments including history, English, music, women’s studies, and even Asian American studies.

“I have a pretty spiritual philosophy towards life and the virtues that influence my decisions,” says Gary. “I wanted to devote my energy towards something I was passionate about. That’s how you achieve success.”

“The African American studies major allows students to tackle race issues from a variety of different angles and lets them choose how they want to do it,” says Martha Cutter, associate professor of English and interim director of the Institute for African American Studies. “It’s highly flexible and because of its size, the students are provided with an intimate relationship with their department.”

Gary began his UConn career as an engineering major. After three semesters of math and science classes, he decided to spend a semester studying Spanish in Madrid through UConn’s study abroad program. While there, he discovered that his real passion involved cultural studies – namely, his own identity as an African American.

So upon his return to UConn, he moved to CLAS and changed his major to African American and Urban Studies.

Gary has also been involved with the UConn’s Junior National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he is now vice president of the advocacy organization. He has worked to provide tutors and mentors to children at My Sister’s Place, a group in Hartford that provides a safe haven for families battling homelessness.

Then, during the summer before his junior year, Gary held an internship at United Technology’s corporate offices, where he helped to renew contracts. The work piqued his interest in law, and after graduation, Gary says he hopes to go to law school.

And, he says, he’ll take his passion with him.

“I could see myself getting into employment, intellectual property law, or corporate law,” says Gary. “Maybe even discrimination or human rights law. Who knows?”

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