CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - A new institute at Coastal Carolina University is devoted to telling the history of the Gullah Geechee culture all while expanding the learning experience for students.
School officials said they hope the program will educate the Grand Strand and help a community that has had a powerful influence on the local way of life.
African diaspora studies will now be an interdisciplinary minor offered to the students of CCU all because of the new Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies.
"We thought it was no better way than to allow us as the university to lead the way in this interpretation of this culture (and) their ancestry," said Veronica Davis Gerald, a CCU professor and the institute's coordinator.
Amy Tully, associate dean for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, said the institute will first study the local Gullah community. The second component would actually look at the African diaspora, which could include study abroad to areas such as Africa and the Caribbean so students can learn more about where the traditions that are now retained locally first originated.
"Students will pair with faculty members with courses they will take and experience going to Sandy Island with faculty members and listening to songs in local churches, or going to places like Holy Cross Faith Memorial Church in Pawleys Island to work with faculty members on archiving," said Tully.
Tully added the third component of the institute is more contemporary and seeks to understand issues pertaining to social injustices.
Gerald said the history of the Gullah people is part of America history.
"It's definitely southern history," she said. "We really formatted ,if you will, food culture. All of the food you eat now that's called southern cuisine (and) Lowcountry cuisine grows right out of the African Gullah tradition, because who else were the people in the kitchen."
Both Tully and Davis agree that this is the purpose for CCU's new institute for Gullah and African diaspora studies. Faculty and staff will lead students into exploring a culture that resonates in this region as far back as the 1600s, when rice became a staple crop for the area.
CCU has already been influential in helping many of the Gullah communities throughout the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, but Gerald said this new institute will embrace the area that services Coastal students, which include Williamsburg, Georgetown and Horry counties, even as far as McClellanville.
"We are interpreting an area in which we sit," Gerald said. "We are also combining different disciplines and most importantly we are bringing in the students. The students will definitely be major and key players in this institute."
An inaugural celebration for the institute is scheduled to take place Friday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m., at Wheelwright Auditorium on CCU's campus.
The keynote speaker is Dr. Cornel West, a well-known philosopher and social activist. West is expected to address the final component for the institute - understanding social justice - a subject Tully said he is notably known for.
Free tickets for the celebration can be requested by calling the Wheelwright Auditorium box office at (843) 349- ARTS.