By: Connie Klimek
Curious about diversity courses at IU South Bend? Dr. Theo Randall, associate professor of anthropology in the department of sociology and anthropology, coordinator of the African American Studies program, and faculty advisor for the Black Student Union, explained this.
In his diversity courses, he defines what an African American is, what race is, then situates African Americans in history, and explores the impact of social institutions like a family, economics, and religion on African Americans’ cultural evolution.
“The reason why diversity is important is because we live in a very ethnically diverse country… If we jump ahead to the 2100s, whites will constitute only around 35 percent of the population… We have to start understanding the world from a non-white perspective. Why? The world is mostly non-white” said Dr. Randall in response to the importance of diversity in our multicultural society.
In his courses, Dr. Randall highlights the contributions of many ethnic groups, not only African Americans, such as the utilization of Arabic numerals, agricultural diversity learned from Native Americans, Chinese contributions to the creation of the United States railrodads, and Muslim scientific advancements during the European Dark Ages.
“I believe that one of the ways we can best address these issues with race and diversity is to understand and know what other people have done in the world,” said Dr. Randall.
Dr. Randall comments that often people who are not white know very little about their own histories. He seeks to emphasize that no group is perfect, yet every group has contributed. Europe did not become great on it’s own, nor did Europeans establish their legacy through the most moral means. Dr. Randall believes that advocating for more exposure to all the sides of history helps us understand where we’re at now.
Awareness for the need for diversity programs in universities started to grow in the 1960’s-1970’s. Dr. Randall is living in the legacy of this time period where many ethnic groups, in response to the Civil Rights Movement, challenged the educational system to broaden the white historical narrative and share the historical and cultural experiences of other groups.
“If people know these things they are more likely to say, okay wait, we’re more alike than different, but also every group has contributed to the establishment of what we now consider modernity. If people think that way, I think you are less likely to look down on people,” said Dr. Randall.
Dr. Randall’s doctorate in anthropology, from the University of Kentucky, Masters in anthropology from Ball State, Masters in public health from the University of Illinois Springfield, and Bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from University of Illinois Springfield all have given Dr. Randall insight needed to recognize and understand the contributions of all groups of people. He especially enjoys understanding why people do what they do.
Dr. Randall brings his international research, teaching, and traveling experiences into his classroom at IU South Bend.
First going overseas in 1988 as a member of the Illinois Army national guard, Dr. Randall served as a surgical technician working in orthopedics and gynecology and as a combat medic. In 1997, Dr. Randall ventured to Africa for the first time. He went on to teach public health at the university level in Ethiopia and The Gambia.
Currently, Dr. Randall conducts research in Nigeria and The Gambia. His most recent publication explores language and religion, specifically focused on a small ethnic group in Africa’s (his wife’s ethnic group) retention of their traditional religion and language.
Clearly Dr. Randall takes his expertise beyond the classroom on an international level, but he is also a social advocate locally. He is a frequent guest on the public access show “Have You Read” which explores relevant books for the African American community, and was a former charter member of 100 Black Men of Greater South Bend.
As a first generation college student himself, Dr. Randall knows the importance of advocates for representation of diversity courses and diverse individuals in higher education. As the faculty advisor for the Black Student Union and coordinator of the African American Studies program, Dr. Randall strives to recruit and retain Black and African American students at IU South Bend.
Dr. Randall believes that it is monumental for African American students to see other African Americans who have done well in the academic game, and he is willing to be at the forefront of all students’ support systems, especially Black and African American students.
“You can do it. If I can do it, you can,” said Dr. Randall.
Photo // Dr. Theo Randall