Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

How AFAM classes at UNC changed my life

I’m going to be completely honest. When I heard that Butch Davis was going to be the new football coach of the Tar Heel football team, I was impressed with his resume and optimistic about the future of UNC football. However, I did have a few reservations.

Davis’ years at the University of Miami immediately sent up a red flag. Miami Hurricane football has never been synonymous with academic integrity. Though, granted the NCAA’s decision to put Miami on probation during the Davis era was attributed to violations under his predecessor, Dennis Erickson.

Still, I had my doubts because I knew things that flew in Coral Gables didn’t fly in Chapel Hill or at least that is what I thought. I’m not at all entirely blaming Butch Davis for the current academic fraud controversy at UNC. But, I do think several people dropped the ball in communicating the fact that things that happen in other football programs were not permitted at UNC.

As an UNC alumna, I take my school’s academic integrity very seriously. I never want to have to take a hammer to my diploma frame when I run out of toilet paper. Recently, one UNC academic department in particular has come under intensive scrutiny, the African American studies department. Journalists and investigators are now suggesting that academic fraud in UNC’s African American studies department can be traced as far back as to the early 2000s when NFL star, Julius Peppers was a student.

First of all, Peppers in his statement was totally accurate. Being in college is a crazy time and sometimes academics get put on the back burner. I’m not sure why the transcript leak was such a big deal. I could give you tons and tons of examples of kids who graduated from elite NC private schools with impeccable GPAs and test scores that also ended up with abysmal grades and/or flunked out of UNC. UNC is not an easy school and there are plenty of distractions, especially for athletes.

I like to tell people that I went to school with Julius Peppers, and we did both arrive in the Fall of 1999 as UNC freshmen. But, our paths never crossed, and we did not share a single class together. But, I did take two African American studies courses while at Carolina. And in the interest of full disclosure, I took those classes in part to fulfill my history major requirement but also because everyone on campus knew that those were the football player classes.

In the Spring of 2001, I enrolled in what was then called AFAM40 (The Black Experience Until 1865) and in the Fall of 2002 (The Black Experience After 1865). I made A’s in both classes, and I will say that comparatively they were easier than most of my other classes. My AFAM 40 professor, Dr. Barbara Anderson is still on staff in Chapel Hill.

I remember our exams being similar to other liberal arts major exams. There were a few multiple choice questions, a few IDs and then an essay. It was in this class that I first learned about Denmark Vesey and his rebellion in Charleston, SC. It was your pretty standard introductory course for African American history. However, I believe I found it easier than most not because of the course material and difficulty but because of my gifted high school history teachers as well as my innate love for American History.

After having success in AFAM 40, I decided to take the subsequent course AFAM 41. I know for a fact that there were football players in this class because they were in attendance. I can also say that they paid attention. They made comments in class and countered some of the arguments that I made. We were assigned a 10-15 page paper at the end of the course, and it was one of the most enjoyable classes I took at UNC. I even had my AFAM 41 professor,

Dr. Gerald Horne, write one of my graduate school recommendations. Dr. Gerald Horne is a renowned and prolific author who is currently chair of the African American studies program at the University of Houston. I was very active in his class discussions, and he countered my sometimes outlandish comments with, “Oh C’mon Miss Biddix.”

I firmly believe that it was his letter of recommendation that resulted in the College of Charleston offering me in-state tuition and a paid graduate assistant-ship at the College of Charleston. To this day, I still remember going into his office and asking for the letter of recommendation. He encouraged me to become a professor and write a book. I replied that was too much work. He told me that a book was just a bunch of 20 page essays made into chapters and eventually a book. This December will mark the ten year anniversary of my UNC graduation date. I can still recall details of what I was taught in the two AFAM classes that I took.

Maybe football players who sat beside me in those classes did get their papers written for them. Maybe they did get the exam questions in advance. Maybe everything wasn’t as it should have been. I took my AFAM classes between the Spring of 2001 and the Fall of 2002, and I came out better educated and a better student because of them. Does this make it ok that academic impropriety occurred in future years? Absolutely not.

At UNC academic integrity should supersede everything. And I hate to use a cliche but let’s not forget the forest for the trees. For every football player and/or athlete who may or may have not benefited from unauthorized assistance, there were ten students like me who benefited greatly from these courses and brilliant professors. I can in no way comment on how the UNC African American studies department was operated after I graduated. But, as a fellow college mate of Julius Peppers I can attest that taking AFAM 41 literally altered the course of the rest of my academic career and changed my life FOR THE BETTER.

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