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The College of Arts Sciences

Graduate Program

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Introduction & Requirements

Our faculty expertise in the global study of race and Blackness in the traditional disciplines of English, anthropology, literature, history, politics, philosophy, sociology and art history makes Africana studies at Cornell a significant resource for graduate students who want to engage in the interdisciplinary study of Black people in Africa, the African diaspora and around the globe.  There are few departments or programs that match our strengths in:

  • Black political, cultural, philosophical and artistic thought and practice in global perspective
  • Global studies in black popular and mass culture 
  • Race in relation to the study of gender and sexuality

While we have particular expertise in the study of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, we support and encourage the study of black people everywhere in the world. 

Africana Studies offers a Ph.D. program with full funding, which includes paid tuition, health insurance and a stipend.

Requirements Summary:

  • All graduate school requirements, including the TOEFL Exam or the IELTS Exam for Non-Native English Applicants
  • Statement of purpose 
  • Writing sample   
  • Three letters of recommendation on letterhead   
  • GRE general test not required
  • Minimum of a 3.0 cumulative GPA 
  • The deadline to apply for the Fall 2019 term is January 11th, 2019
  • Cost to apply is $105. For more information, please see the Graduate School website.

To apply now, visit the Graduate School website.


Graduate education at Cornell is designed to accommodate the specific interests, objectives and development of individual students who work out a program of study in consultation with a special committee selected by the student from the membership of the graduate faculty. This procedure, commonly referred to as "the committee system," takes the place of uniform course requirements and uniform departmental examinations and is intended to encourage freedom and flexibility in the design of individual students' degree programs. Such a system requires adaptability on the part of both faculty and students, and requires of each student a high degree of initiative and responsibility. 

First-Year Course Work

There are two required courses that introduce students to the field of Africana studies: 

  • Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis
  • Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary and Visual Analysis 

Students complete the required seminars during the first year and, in consultation with their special committee, develop a program of study within major and minor areas of concentration over the following year. Within each track, students will select a geographic area of concentration, e.g. Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, or emerging studies of the global African diaspora. Students take a minimum of ten courses in Africana studies and related fields before taking the qualifying exam (Q exam) by the end of the second year of graduate study. 

Special Committee

The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) serves as the student's main academic adviser and provisional chair during the first semester of residence and during that period will assist the student in beginning the process of forming a special committee. Because the special committee is charged with guiding and supervising all of a student's academic work, it is important to establish this committee as soon as possible. The expectation is that a student will select at least one member of their committee no later than the end of the first year of graduate study. The entire special committee should be chosen and assigned in "Student Center" by the end of the fall semester of the second year of graduate study and the chair of the committee will become the candidate's dissertation advisor. The two other members of the committee represent fields of study (the "minor fields") in which the student also has a strong interest and will become competent to teach. The DGS will serve as a temporary member of the student's special committee until there is a full complement of functioning members. Minor members may be chosen from related fields outside the department, but the chair must be in the graduate field of Africana studies. Any changes or additions to the special committee before the A Exam can be assigned through Student Center. A student's special committee chair is charged with certain formal responsibilities: 

  • Approving the student's choice of courses for each semester
  • Recommending at the end of each semester that the student be awarded appropriate residence credit. One "unit of  residence" is awarded for a semester's satisfactory full-time study. Fractions of a unit may be awarded for part time or not wholly satisfactory study.
  • With the other special committee members, conducting the Qualifying Exam (Q Exam)
  • Conducting the Admission to Candidacy Examination (A Exam) with the whole special committee
  • Approving the dissertation with the committee after conducting a formally scheduled final examination (B Exam)
  • Recommending the conferral of the degree. This recommendation must be unanimous. The committee is expected to meet with the student at least once a year. 

The Q exam

The goal of a Q exam is to test whether the student has the necessary qualifications for continuation in the program. 

The content of the exam is decided in consultation with the student’s committee chair. Passing the Q Exam is required to remain in good academic standing. 


The process and content for the Q exam should be discussed with second-year Ph.D. students early in the fall semester, and the exam must take place no later than the fourth semester of graduate study. 

The Q Exam is comprised of both a written and an oral portion. Each student, in consultation with his or her committee chair, will choose one of the 20-25 page research papers written during a previous semester at Cornell and work with his or her chair to enhance and revise it in preparation for submitting it to the full committee. This paper will form a significant part of the student's oral qualifying exam that must be taken by the end of the fourth semester of study. The Q Exam itself consists of a presentation by the student and questions from the committee. 

At the conclusion of the exam, the committee offers the student its written assessment of progress in developing the knowledge and skills necessary for a Ph.D. in Africana studies and makes recommendations for further study. At this time, the committee should also take the opportunity to propose how the language requirement is to be satisfied, or whether it has been satisfied already. Committee chairs must report the results of Q-exams to the DGS, along with information about the language requirement. 

This exam will determine whether the student will remain in good academic standing.  Students with incompletes are not eligible to take the exam.

The A exam

No later than the end of the third year, each student will take an A exam, demonstrating proficiency in one major and two minor fields.

Ph.D. students usually take the A exam following two years of coursework and must be completed some time between the end of the second year and the beginning of the fourth year. The A exam will cover one major and two minor concentrations, and is partly oral and partly written. The examination is taken after a student has earned at least two registration units of credit. 

Language, Teaching & Registration Units

Language Proficiency

All students must demonstrate proficiency in one language other than English. This requirement can be satisfied by taking a proficiency exam or by taking the relevant language course. 

Registration Units

Ph.D. candidates at Cornell must complete at least six registration units. One registration unit is equivalent to one semester of fulltime study. Students entering the Ph.D. program may be granted a maximum of two registration units for a master's degree earned at another institution if that degree is relevant to the doctoral program. However, no commitment regarding transfer of registration units may be made until the special committee has had an opportunity to judge the student's accomplishments.

Teaching Assistant

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree in Africana studies must complete at least three semesters of carefully supervised teaching as a teaching assistant during their third and fourth years. Following admission to candidacy, students will have the option of teaching in the undergraduate writing seminar program.

Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI)

In the second year of the Africana Ph.D. program, candidates are expected to earn a GET SET Assessing Teaching & Learning Certificate, and attend the University-Wide GET SET Teaching Conference offered in the fall or attend 1 of the Institutes on Special Topics offered in the Spring Semester​ from CTI.

Assessing Teaching & Learning Certificate

Assessment is the process of discovering what students have learned and measuring the effectiveness of your teaching. As a result of participating in a minimum of three workshops in the Certificate in Assessing Learning & Teaching you will be able to:
  • Outline the steps for creating student learning outcomes.
  • Describe methods of assessing student learning and/or teaching.
Certificate Requirements
Required workshop:
  • Designing Learning Outcomes for Your Course
Plus any two from the following workshops:
  • Utilizing Classroom Assessment Techniques to Evaluate Student Learning
  • Using Student Feedback to Assess and Improve Your Teaching
  • Creating and Using Effective Assessment Instruments
  • Creating and Implementing
  • Designing Student Assessments to Evaluate Yourself as a Teacher
  • Creating and Implementing Assessment Techniques to Evaluate Student Learning
  • Grading Effectively


The University-Wide GET SET Teaching Conference in the Fall Semester

The University-Wide GET SET Teaching Conference is an opportunity for Cornell graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and teaching assistants to learn how to make teaching more fun and engaging. The conference provides an opportunity for networking and interdisciplinary discussions on teaching with faculty and colleagues from across campus.


One of the Institutes on Special Topics offered in the Spring Semester

Spring 2019 Institutes
  • Active Learning Institute; Sat, Feb 9th, 2019
  • Inclusive Teaching Institute; Fri-Sat, March 1-2, 2019
  • Professional Portfolio Institute; Sat, April 13th, 2019


Doctoral candidates will be required to give a departmental colloquium/presentation in the early stages of dissertation research and writing and a public colloquium/presentation at a later stage. Students must also defend the final dissertation in an oral exam

Graduate School Requirements

Plus, all graduate school requirements 


Annual Review Procedures

In the spring semester of each academic year, Ph.D. students in the Africana studies program will submit a written self‐evaluation to both the DGS and, if it has been formed, their special committee chair. The self‐appraisal will cover: courses taken, general progress toward the Ph.D., problems the student may be facing, and what the DGS or special committee can do to help. Students in years one to two should also include an updated description of research interests. 

Advanced students will update the DGS on progress towards formulating a dissertation question/problem or, if they are far enough along, progress on writing/defending a dissertation proposal or the completed dissertation. If a student has incompletes, the evaluation must include the names of the courses, dates of enrollment and plans for resolving the incompletes. In addition, the self‐evaluation should include a description of published work, conference presentations and/or grant/fellowship awards for the academic year. 

The review will be based on the students' grades, papers, presentations, Q and A exams, publications and teaching in order to determine if they are making satisfactory progress toward the completion of the program. 

Visit the Grad School website for more details on policies.

Africana Studies Ph.D. Assessment

Faculty assess student performance through a variety of direct and indirect measures; these include:

  • Assignment of registration units, which record student progress semiannually
  • Official milestones such as qualifying exams (Q exam), administered early in an academic program, admission to candidacy exams (A exam) which assess breadth and depth in the discipline, the defense of the thesis (B exams)
  • Public presentations of scholarly work
  • Fellowships and special acknowledgements such as student awards for their work and travel grants
  • Evaluation of student skills by TA supervisors or field experience supervisors, undertaken in a systematic way and with notes recorded consistently
  • Annual student self-ratings of knowledge, skills, and progress
  • Annual faculty supervisor ratings from chairs and TA supervisors of knowledge, skills, and progress
  • Student satisfaction with their learning and career preparation, collected through surveys, focus groups, or exit interviews

To learn more about Africana Studies Assessment Plan, go to Learning Outcomes and Associated Assessments


Africana Minor Description:

The minor in Africana Studies provides an opportunity for students to complement doctoral studies in their home department with coordinated multidisciplinary training in Africana Studies, and to take part in an intellectually stimulating interdisciplinary community. Students entering the program may come from any department in the Humanities and Social Sciences and from any of the colleges in which interdisciplinary training in Africana is desired.

Entrance into the Program:

Students interested in obtaining a minor in Africana declare their intention to do so by the end of their first year, or at the beginning of the semester in which they intend to take their A exam. All students interested in the minor should contact the Director of Graduate Studies in Africana Studies. 

Course of Study:

Course requirements for the minor in Africana Studies will consist of interested graduate students taking one of the two graduate level intro courses and then two other courses that are relevant and taught by a member of the graduate field.


Normally the dissertation should center on a topic of significance in Africana Studies. The student's committee must approve the dissertation proposal and the approval process will follow the timetable of the student's primary field. The principal advisor for the dissertation is a faculty member from the primary field, with at least one minor member from the field of Africana Studies.

Funding and Teaching:

Students are normally supported by regular graduate fellowships from their home department. Graduate students with sufficient background and training may have the opportunity to TA in Africana Studies courses during their regular period of enrollment. Students should consult with the Graduate School about the impact of accepting additional funds for teaching in Africana.   

Graduate Field Faculty

Click here for a directory of faculty in the Africana Studies graduate field.

Current Graduate Students