African American Studies

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The African American Studies graduate program focuses on life, culture, and social organization (broadly defined) of persons of African descent. Africa, North America, and the Caribbean are central components of the program. Students are expected to apply a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the international and national divisions of race as they pertain to persons of African descent, wherever they may find themselves. Such an approach is to be employed for the study and understanding of development and underdevelopment, domination and power, self-determination, cooperation, and aesthetic and creative expression. Issues of identity construction, marginality, territoriality, and the universal role of race in the organization of political economy and in class formation are critical to the program's intellectual agenda.

Applications are accepted for the PhD program only.

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Admission to the University

Minimum Requirements for Admission

The following minimum requirements apply to all graduate programs and will be verified by the Graduate Division:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;
  2. A grade point average of B or better (3.0);
  3. If the applicant has completed a basic degree from a country or political entity (e.g., Quebec) where English is not the official language, adequate proficiency in English to do graduate work, as evidenced by a TOEFL score of at least 90 on the iBT test, 570 on the paper-and-pencil test, or an IELTS Band score of at least 7 on a 9-point scale (note that individual programs may set higher levels for any of these); and
  4. Sufficient undergraduate training to do graduate work in the given field.

Applicants Who Already Hold a Graduate Degree

The Graduate Council views academic degrees not as vocational training certificates, but as evidence of broad training in research methods, independent study, and articulation of learning. Therefore, applicants who already have academic graduate degrees should be able to pursue new subject matter at an advanced level without the need to enroll in a related or similar graduate program.

Programs may consider students for an additional academic master’s or professional master’s degree only if the additional degree is in a distinctly different field.

Applicants admitted to a doctoral program that requires a master’s degree to be earned at Berkeley as a prerequisite (even though the applicant already has a master’s degree from another institution in the same or a closely allied field of study) will be permitted to undertake the second master’s degree, despite the overlap in field.

The Graduate Division will admit students for a second doctoral degree only if they meet the following guidelines:

  1. Applicants with doctoral degrees may be admitted for an additional doctoral degree only if that degree program is in a general area of knowledge distinctly different from the field in which they earned their original degree. For example, a physics PhD could be admitted to a doctoral degree program in music or history; however, a student with a doctoral degree in mathematics would not be permitted to add a PhD in statistics.
  2. Applicants who hold the PhD degree may be admitted to a professional doctorate or professional master’s degree program if there is no duplication of training involved.

Applicants may apply only to one single degree program or one concurrent degree program per admission cycle.

Required Documents for Applications

  1. Transcripts: Applicants may upload unofficial transcripts with your application for the departmental initial review. Unofficial transcripts must contain specific information including the name of the applicant, name of the school, all courses, grades, units, & degree conferral (if applicable). 
  2. Letters of recommendation: Applicants may request online letters of recommendation through the online application system. Hard copies of recommendation letters must be sent directly to the program, by the recommender, not the Graduate Admissions.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants who have completed a basic degree from a country or political entity in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to institutions from Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Latin America, the Middle East, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, most European countries, and Quebec (Canada). However, applicants who, at the time of application, have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a US university may submit an official transcript from the US university to fulfill this requirement. The following courses will not fulfill this requirement:

    • courses in English as a Second Language,

    • courses conducted in a language other than English,

    • courses that will be completed after the application is submitted, and

    • courses of a non-academic nature.

Applicants who have previously applied to Berkeley must also submit new test scores that meet the current minimum requirement from one of the standardized tests. Official TOEFL score reports must be sent directly from Educational Test Services (ETS). The institution code for Berkeley is 4833 for Graduate Organizations. Official IELTS score reports must be sent electronically from the testing center to University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Division, Sproul Hall, Rm 318 MC 5900, Berkeley, CA 94720. TOEFL and IELTS score reports are only valid for two years prior to beginning the graduate program at UC Berkeley. Note: score reports can not expire before the month of June.


Where to Apply

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page

Admission to the Program

Applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree and should demonstrate a general knowledge of African American history and an understanding of the disciplinary bases for the study of the African diaspora. Demonstrated knowledge in the field should include understanding relations among social, economic, and political structures and culture in African American life.

Students are admitted to graduate studies in the fall semester only. Applicants must file:

  1. A University of California, Berkeley graduate application.
  2. Two official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended.
  3. Three letters of recommendation.
  4. Writing sample (no more than 15 pages) that best reflects their program/research interests.
  5. TOEFL (required for all international students).

Students who have been accepted to this program and have earned a master's degree in another program will be evaluated based on requirements for the pre-qualifying examinations.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Program Requirements

A minimum of two years or four semesters of academic residence is required by the university for all PhD programs. Academic residence is defined as enrollment in at least 12 units in the 200 series of courses. Thus, every graduate student must enroll in and complete a minimum of 12 units of graduate course work per required semester of academic residency. After successful completion of course work with a minimum GPA of 3.30, a pre-qualifying examination based upon general knowledge in the field of African American Studies will be administered by the department.

Academic Preparation

Applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree and should demonstrate a general knowledge of African American history and an understanding of the disciplinary bases for the study of the African diaspora. Demonstrated knowledge in the field should include understanding relations among social, economic, and political structures and culture in African American life. Applicant records must also demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language at the undergraduate level comparable to this university's language requirement.


Courses per individualized approved study list

Teaching Opportunities

Doctoral students are required to be a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) at least once before they take their Qualifying Examination. However, most students serve as a GSI for a minimum of four semesters as part of a multi-year fellowship and departmental funding packages. We have many large lecture courses that students work with and the Department offers American Cultures courses that serve the larger campus community and create teaching opportunities for our students. Additionally, graduate students can apply to teach their own course in the Summer terms after they are advanced to candidacy. This allows graduate students to begin working with their own ideas and interests and create syllabi and lectures for future courses. Other opportunities after advancing to candidacy include teaching Reading and Composition courses (R1A and R1B) specializing in your own areas of expertise.  

Professional Development Activities

The Department of African American Studies offers numerous Professional Development opportunities for our graduate students. For example, each year, graduate students in residence are required to take part in departmental service work that helps create professional development skills. Some students plan our annual symposium, others mentor undergraduates in our research institute, others help with admissions and recruiting, and some choose to help with our colloquium series and other public talks that bring out conversations and dialogue about new research and ideas in our field. In addition to service work that mirror what faculty do, we also offer workshops on topics such as writing cover letters, putting together panels for conferences, how to write a lecture, how to apply for external grants, putting together a job talk, and other topics that are critical to students' success on the market and with obtaining funding.


African American Studies

Faculty and Instructors

* Indicates this faculty member is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.


Brandi N. Catanese, Associate Professor. Critical race theory, African American theater, non-traditional casting, racial performativity, gender studies, sexuality studies, American popular culture.
Research Profile

Chiyuma Elliott, Assistant Professor. Poetry and poetics, visual culture, creative writing, intellectual history .
Research Profile

Nikki Jones, Associate Professor. African American communities, policing, racial/gender disparities and the criminal justice system, violence and violence interventions.
Research Profile

Sam A. Mchombo, Associate Professor. African languages, linguistics, political development, sports and politics, national identity, globalization .
Research Profile

G. Ugo Nwokeji, Associate Professor. Atlantic slave trade, historical demography, African history and political economy, oil and gas policy .
Research Profile

Tianna Paschel, Assistant Professor. Racial ideology, politics and globalization in Latin America, Black political subjects, transnationalism .
Research Profile

John Powell, Professor. Civil rights and civil liberties, structural racialization, racial justice and regionalism, concentrated poverty and urban sprawl, opportunity based housing, voting rights, affirmative action in the United States, South Africa and Brazil, racial and ethnic identity, spirituality and social justice, and the needs of citizens in a democratic society.
Research Profile

Leigh Raiford, Associate Professor. Social movements, visual culture, memory, photography, African American history and culture.
Research Profile

Darieck Scott, Associate Professor. 20th and 21st century African American literature, creative writing, queer theory, and LGBTQ studies, race, gender and sexuality in fantasy, science fiction, and comic books .
Research Profile

Janelle Scott, Associate Professor. Educational policy, charter schools, politics of education, race and education, school choice, desegregation, philanthropy and education, advocacy.
Research Profile

Stephen Small, Associate Professor. Public history, collective memory, African diaspora in Europe.
Research Profile

* Ula Taylor, Professor. African American studies, cultural African American history, colonial times, civil rights movement of the 60's, African American women's history, cultural, institutional and individual racism, United States.
Research Profile


Michael Cohen, Lecturer SOE.

Aya De Leon, Lecturer.

David Kyeu, Lecturer.

Emeritus Faculty

Robert Allen, Professor Emeritus.

William M. Banks, Professor Emeritus.

Charles Henry, Professor Emeritus. Human rights, Black politics, race and public policy.
Research Profile

Percy Hintzen, Professor Emeritus.

Margaret B. Wilkerson, Professor Emeritus.

Contact Information

Department of African American Studies

660 Social Sciences Building

Phone: 510-642-7084

Fax: 510-642-0318

Visit Department Website

Department Chair

Ula Taylor

Phone: 510-642-7084

Graduate Advisor and Policy Analyst

Lindsey Villarreal

664A Social Sciences Building

Phone: 510-642-3419

Undergraduate Advisor

Althea Grannum-Cummings

608 Social Sciences Building

Phone: 510-642-8513

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