GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Thirty years ago, a group of professors at Richard Stockton College got together to develop a program in Africana Studies.

“We were already teaching a course on the Black Experience,” said professor Patricia Reid-Merritt, who coordinates the program. “It just grew and has become ingrained in the college community.”

Friday's program, will celebrate its anniversary with a party in the Campus Center that will include a tribute to retiring faculty member Linda Williamson Nelson, professor of anthropology and Africana studies. Faculty, students, alumni and the public are invited.

The theme of the event is “Old School Meets New School” and reflects both the history of the popular program, and some nervousness about its future. About half of the 21 faculty members who teach in the program have been around since it began. As they, like Nelson, begin to retire, the courses they teach could retire with them. The program is offered as a minor to students, who also can take classes as General Studies electives.

“We would like to see it as a major,” said Reid-Merritt, who joined the faculty in 1976. “We already act like a major.”

The program sponsors the annual Fannie Lou Hamer Symposium, had held Black Film and Black Book series, and has been honored by the National Council for Black Studies for its community outreach.

The courses have adapted and changed over the decades, Reid-Merritt said. Courses include The Slave Narrative, Civil Rights and Hip Hop Culture. While not all are offered every semester, the list of courses include 10 that are arts-related, 17 that are history and culture related, and eight that are science related. Professor William Jaynes’ Black Power course is consistently one of the most popular courses.

Stockton Provost Harvey Kesselman said many of the most experienced faculty at the college teach in the program, and they will be hard to replace when they retire. But, he said, the college is committed to continuing the program.

“It is going through a metamorphosis,” he said. “But we would want to ensure the vitality of the program. It has been integral to a college that celebrates diversity.”

Reid-Merritt said she is proud that the courses have a multicultural tone and attract students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Both our faculty and our student population are diverse,” she said. “Students here get an excellent exposure to multicultural education and an excellent opportunity to study their own culture, or another.”

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.