Summer Institute

CFAS Summer Institute for Pre-First Years is scheduled for

Saturday, July 15 – Saturday, July 22, 2023

The application portal for the 2023 CFAS Summer Institute for Pre-First Year Students has closed. 



The Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute is one of Penn’s premier Pre-First Year Student programs. This intensive one-week course of study is taught by standing Penn faculty and exposes students to major intellectual and cultural themes and currents in 19th, 20th, and 21st century African and African Diaspora studies.

The Institute is free of charge and includes room, board, books, and course tuition. Students who successfully complete the program's requirements earn 0.5c.u., graded pass/fail. All incoming freshmen interested in African, African American, and other African Diaspora studies are eligible to apply for admission to the Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute. The location of the 2023 program will be on campus.

The Summer Institute provides a rigorous introduction to the academic and co-curricular life at the University. Graduate Fellows assist students with course work and provide general mentoring. Participating students have access to a network of faculty, graduate students and fellow undergraduate students who that support them throughout their Penn careers. Additionally, students who participate in the Institute enhance the leadership skills essential to their success at Penn and beyond. The Institute is free of charge and includes room, board, books, and course tuition (does not include travel).

Who Is Eligible?

All incoming first-year students interested in African, African American and other African diaspora studies are eligible to apply for admission to the Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute.

Applications are processed on a rolling admissions basis. Students are encouraged to apply early to secure admission into the 2023 Africana Studies Summer Institute cohort.

Overview & 2023 Courses

Morning Session

Introduction to the History of Modern Africa - Cheikh Babou

This course is designed as a brief and broad introduction to Africa’s modern history from the end of the Atlantic slave trade to the early years of self-rule. We will look in greater depth at key turning points in the history of Africa, including the “Scramble for Africa” and Africans’ responses to it, colonial rule and the rise of nationalist and pan Africanist movements.

Toni Cade Bambara: Writer, Activist, Scholar - Keisha-Khan Perry

The course will focus on African-American writer, filmmaker, activist, and scholar Toni Cade Bambara (1939-1995). She is one of the most important Black feminist thinkers and writers for understanding the formation of Black Studies as a field of study. Over the course of the week, we will read and discuss her last novel, Those Bones Are Not My Child, completed and published posthumously by renowned writer Toni Morrison. The powerful novel portrays a Black family’s terror as they search for their son amidst a string of child murders in Atlanta in the 1980s. The book has much to teach students about this historical formation of gendered racial and class relations in the United States as well as offer a vivid lens for understanding key ideas in social theory such as power, agency, resistance, and violence. Students in the class will learn about Bambara’s life and the general importance of the rich corpus of her writings as a creative writer and theorist. The class discussions will focus on critical interpretations of the book, archival and ethnographic research, the relationship between literature and social theory, and the writing craft in the humanities and social sciences. We will also watch excerpts of her films and interviews, read from her other writings, and engage literary critiques of the book.

Joking Seriously: Humor, State and Society in Africa - Wale Adebanwi

Whether it manifests in laughter, derision, ridicule, satire, sarcasm, caricature, parody, and/or mockery, humor serves different purposes in contemporary African society. In many ways, Africans use humor to reflect and reflect on the conflicts, diseases, disasters, and poverty that have become the standard ways by which the rest of the world encounter the continent in the media. Why are Africans so full of mirth even in the face of the seemingly all-pervading gloom in the continent? How is humor one of the most versatile ways of capturing and responding to social reality? How can we penetrate social complexity, including the unsaid and the unsayable, through levity? And why is humor a critical instrument of domination and/or resistance? This series of lectures and debates will use a “soft” phenomenon (laughter) to cut through the “hard stuff” (including politics, the market, sociability, etc.) in the continent. We will approach humor as “serious things,” examine the theoretical/conceptual approaches to humor, and use particular instances of humor to analyze, and elaborate on, socio-cultural, economic and political dynamics in contemporary Africa.


Afternoon Session

All The Stars: Afrofuturism in Black Popular Music - Jasmine Henry

From the cosmic sonic voyages of Sun Ra to the queer posthuman articulations of Janelle Monáe, this course considers how Afrofuturistic popular music performers in the United States envision and render Black utopic futures grounded in Afro-diasporic experiences. Students will be introduced to key aesthetic principles and philosophical theories in Afrofuturism to help them better understand how the artistic works associated with this movement function as distinct forms of Black cultural knowledge and expression. We will pay particular attention to issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, space, place, technology and spirituality as they emerge in Afrofuturist musical works. We will also interrogate how this Black radical intellectual tradition challenges Eurocentric portrayals of science fiction, technocultures, utopian thought, and futurity. Through short listening and writing exercises, students will analyze written, audio, and visual sources that speak to Black conceptions of the non-linear nature of the past, present, and future. By the end of the course, students will have improved music analytic skills, be able to engage critically with Black creative expressions, and ability to develop compelling arguments and articulate them through speech and writing.

Race, Cities, and the Built Environment - Akira Rodriguez

Throughout history, cities have served as important sites of economy, politics, and culture. As spaces of economic and political opportunity, they attract a diverse population with shared and competing needs and interests. While urban planners and policymakers have a codified role in constructing and governing cities to meet these needs and interests, residents also have an important role in either supporting or resisting them. As cities are made and re-made, the built environment (buildings, streets, green and open spaces) reflects these struggles and interests. From slum clearance to redlining to urban renewal to gentrification, the transformation of the city’s built environment are expressions of the struggles around cultural norms, economic priorities, and political capacity and opportunity. Quite often, these struggles are racialized, classed, and gendered in ways that conscribes nonwhite women of low-wealth into the least (economically and politically) valuable areas of the city. Without access to economic and political capital, residents in these areas tend to have lower life expectancy, fewer employment options, poorer school quality, greater risk of exposure to environmental hazards, and other dimensions of social vulnerability. There is an interdependent relationship between race and racialization, citymaking and governance, and the quality and condition of the built environment.

Black Visual Culture - Dagmawi Woubshet

In this course, we will consider a range of texts—including, photography, film, painting, poetry, and theory—to explore both the creative works of Black artists and the critical discourses around Black visual representation. From the casta paintings of colonial Mexico to media images today, in the white western canon, Black people have been viewed mainly through “the typology of taint, / of stain: blemish: sullying spot:” to borrow the poet Natasha Trethewey’s incisive characterization. It is against this context that Black image makers have engendered a creative and critical practice and body of work, which reveals the effect of what Toni Morrison called “the white gaze,” and moreover illuminates Black interior life on its own terms. Among the themes we will explore in-depth include: the representation of blackness in different visual media; the ways in which race intersects with other markers of identity like gender, sexuality, class, and nationality; the relationship between Black visual and literary arts; and the ethics of Black self-representation.


Questions? Please email Ms. Teya Campbell at