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The University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce that on August 16, 2020, Dr. David A. Canton assumed duties as Director of the African American Studies Program, a rapidly growing academic unit that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Dr. Canton comes to UF from Connecticut College, where he was Director of the Africana Studies Program and Associate Professor of History. He also served as the school’s Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, Chair of the Department of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equality. He received his B.A. in History from Morehouse College, M.A. in Black Studies from The Ohio State University and Ph.D. in History from Temple University.

At UF, Dr. Canton will continue his scholarship and teaching as Associate Professor of History, building on a body of work on topics such as 20th-century African American History, the Civil Rights Movement, and Hip Hop and Black Culture in Post-Industrial America.

Dr. Canton joins UF after a nationwide search managed by the Isaacson-Miller firm. He succeeds Interim Director Dr. James Essegbey of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (2019-2020) and Director Dr. Sharon Austin, Professor of Political Science (2011-2019).

Dr. David Canton
Dr. David Canton comes to UF after a nationwide search for the new director.

“I’m thrilled that Dr. Canton has accepted our offer to take the African American Studies Program to the next level,” said David Richardson, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “His track record of leadership and scholarship assures us that the program’s future is bright.”

“Dr. Canton has been exceptionally active in community outreach and professional service,” said Mary Watt, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “A much sought-after speaker, he has delivered numerous invited lectures at national and regional venues, and given media presentations on topics ranging from poverty and addiction to race and sports. We in the college look forward to working with Dr. Canton and the faculty in the program toward achieving our aspirational goals for the next fifty years of African American Studies at the University of Florida.”

Dr. Canton arrives at UF during a pivotal moment for the African American Studies Program, which recently debuted new office space in Turlington Hall. Dean Richardson has committed to supporting the transition the program into a full-fledged department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with four new tenure-track faculty positions already allocated to African American Studies in the next round of searches. Richardson adds that “these positions should only be considered a beginning of a steady investment in new faculty members both in African American Studies and affiliated with the program from their positions in other departments.”

Dr. Canton will steward the search for these faculty members while shaping the new department’s vision. The chance to lead this process was part of what drew him to the position.

“The opportunity to build a department is exciting,” he said. “The founders of Black studies programs across the country know that the power to make institutional change comes through departments. With the commitment of resources from the College, years of struggle by African Americans and allies are paying off.”

African American Studies programs, Dr. Canton said, have a role to play in the current cultural moment. The tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans have drawn stark attention to systemic racism, and Dr. Canton believes a reinvigorated African American Studies Program has an opportunity to help shape public policy and make societal change. The program can also offer a unique perspective and role when it comes to the university’s engagement with the greater Gainesville community.

The founders of Black studies programs across the country know that the power to make institutional change comes through departments.

The relevance of African American Studies has clearly resonated with students at UF: it is one of the fastest-growing undergraduate majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dr. Canton thinks students and their parents alike are starting to appreciate that the discipline not only imparts valuable knowledge about the world, but also serves as a platform for a wide variety of careers.

In the years to come, Dr. Canton will work toward making UF the first university in the southeast to offer both M.A. and Ph.D. programs in African American Studies. But first, he wants to take time to engage with students, faculty and the community at UF.

“I’m going to do a lot of listening for the first year. A lot of listening,” Dr. Canton said. “In Black studies, the discourse and conversation are never-ending.”