College of Arts and Sciences

Initiative for African Diaspora Studies


The College of Arts and Sciences has established an initiative to research and educate about the history, traditions and contributions of people of African descent to the United States, the Americas, and throughout the globe. As a historically black university, the study of the African Diaspora is one that supports the university’s mission of social justice and creating students who can become leaders in the African American community across all disciplines. With courses taught by faculty across the College of Arts and Sciences, Xavier faculty and students examine the black experience from multiple perspectives. Faculty and students have worked in the field on community, national, and international projects with the mission to examine, document, preserve and to empower. As an HBCU in New Orleans, Xavier is an ideal institution for such a center to support this vital historical and contemporary work. 



AADS Fine Art, Music & Culture: Xavier faculty and students engage in the study and exhibition of artistic, musical and other cultural traditions of African Americans and of the African Diaspora.

AADS Language Preservation: Xavier faculty and students study the languages of people of African descent throughout the Americas from Spanish, French to Haitian Creole. This study also looks at preservation, particularly through capturing the oral histories of groups like the Garifunas, a black, Hispanic group with a significant pre-Katrina population in New Orleans.

AADS History: Xavier faculty and students study the histories of the people of African descent across the diaspora. This includes the study of African civilizations, African American history and Latin American and Caribbean history.

AADS & the Americas: Xavier faculty and students study regional studies in Latin America and the Caribbean through examining the development of the Americas, U.S.-Latin American relations and migration and contributions of peoples across the region to the U.S. Xavier students have engaged in study abroad, research and professional experiences in the region in countries like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Brazil, and Costa Rica, among other places. 



February 11, 2017. Gert Town History Harvest. Organized by Xavier University Community Outreach Center, Art, History and Counseling departments. Additional Gert Town events scheduled in March 2017.

February 15 – April 15, 2017. ROOTS: An Exhibition. By Ron Bechet, Rontherin Ratliff, Patrick Waldema. Chapel Gallery, Xavier Administration Building. Organized by The Art Department. Open to the public.

February 18, 2017 9 – 4 p.m. Whitney Plantation Black History Month genealogy workshop field trip. Organized by Dr. Shearon Roberts and XUTULAC.

February 21, 2017 4 – 6 p.m. XU Administrative Auditorium. “Afro-Louisiana Slavery and Real Djangos” with Dr. Ibrahima Seck and Dr. Joy Banner. Sponsored by THE LAMP. Free and open to public.

February 22, 2017 7 p.m. The 38th Annual African American Music Festival. Sponsored by The Department of Music as part of the Elise Performing Arts Series. Admission is free and open to public.

March 25, 2017 4 p.m. “The Babydolls: Preserving Culture in New Orleans.” Documentary screening at the 31st Annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival. Produced by Dr. Tia Smith and Vashni Balleste ’15. Based on the book and work of Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville. The “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition.

March 2017 Whitney Plantation visit. Organized by Dr. Susan Spillman. contact Open to students in AADS/FREN/SPAN 4025.

April 25-27, 2017. XU Jazz Festival. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. Sponsored by The Department of Music.

[Details: April 25th: Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Jazz Band | April 26th: The Kidd Jordan Ensemble | April 27th: X.U. Jazz Ensemble with soloist Donald Brown on piano performing African American composer Frank Foster’s work]

April 26 – 30, 2017. Festival International de Louisiane, Lafayette, La. field trip. Organized by Dr. Susan Spillman. contact Open to students in AADS/FREN/SPAN 4025.

Summer 2017. AADS, Art and Mass Communication in Cuba. Dr. Sarah Clunis will direct a faculty-led summer program in Cuba with an emphasis on Cuban Art and Culture. Dr. Shearon Roberts will direct a faculty-student project in Cuba on Cuban millennials and new media. Contact Dr. Sarah Clunis at and Dr. Shearon Roberts at Spanish Culture and Language in Costa Rica. Contact Ms. Giti Farudi: 



Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville is associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of Education at Xavier University of Louisiana.  Her book, The ‘Baby Dolls’: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition (LSU Press, 2013) was the basis for The Louisiana State Museum Presbytere’s 2013 exhibition “They Call Me Baby Doll: A Mardi Gras Tradition.” The ‘Baby Dolls’ was the 2016 selection of the Young Leadership Council’s program, One Book One New Orleans.


Dr. Sarah Clunis is an assistant professor of Art History and the Director of the African American and African Diaspora studies program at Xavier. She teaches Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora. She has coordinated dozens of art exhibits across Louisiana that showcased the works of African American and black artists from across the Diaspora. She directs a study abroad program to Cuba and was a faculty member with the XUTULAC partnership.


Ron Bechet is the Victor H. Labat Endowed Professor of Art at Xavier, who earned his M.F.A. from Yale University. He is a native of New Orleans, and a relative of the early jazz pioneer Sidney Bechet. He is a celebrated and accomplished artist, and leads community arts projects.


Dr. Wendy Gaudin is the director of the Freshman Seminar Program at Xavier. She joined Xavier as a history professor in 2005 and her expertise includes Creole culture, New Orleans culture and history, and the African diaspora. In her current role, she supports and coordinates the freshman program, which provides first-year students with a unique learning experience through close and early interaction with members of the faculty and fellow first-year students. 


Daniele Gair is Xavier University’s Art Collections manager and registrar. She holds a B.A. in English, with a minor in Women’s Studies, from Tulane University. A writer by trade, she has spent many years researching art and antiques, and applys her expertise to the care and study of Xavier’s exceptional collection of African and African-American art. She was a contributing editor of Nineteenth-Century European Painting: From Barbizon to Belle Epoque by William Rau, and contributed to Making New Orleans: Products Past and Present by Phillip Collier.


Dr. Karen Moore is an associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Languages and a New Orleans native. She established and directed Xavier’s first study abroad programs. Her expertise includes Afro-Latin American literature and culture and she has developed courses at Xavier in Afro-Latin American studies.


Dr. Shearon Roberts is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication department and also teaches courses in the African American and Diaspora Studies program. She is a faculty member on the XUTULAC partnership. She is the co-author of Oil and Water: Media Lessons from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster and co-editor of HBO’s Treme and Post-Katrina Catharsis: The Mediated Re-birth of New Orleans. She conducts research in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is a Haitian media scholar.


Dr. Steven Salm teaches courses in African history, African popular culture, and the Black Atlantic World. He has conducted fieldwork in several West African countries, including Ghana and Sierra Leone and has published six books focusing on African urban history and globalization. His has also written numerous chapters and articles on topics as diverse as gender, youth, music, literature, and religion in African culture. He holds the Alumni Class of 1958 Endowed Professorship in the Humanities and serves as the Department Chair of History and the Division Chair of Fine Arts and Humanities. 


Dr. Tia L. Smith is the Mass Communication Department Head and a member of the AADS and Women Studies program. Her expertise includes race, gender and the media, and popular culture. She has published on hip-hop culture and has conducted research in Latin America and the Caribbean. She is a faculty member for the XUTULAC partnership and a documentarian.


Dr. Susan F. Spillman, is an Associate Professor of Languages, and the co-developer of Afro Latin American Culture and Civilization, a team-taught course tracing the transmission and evolution of the Afro-informed historic, intellectual, and artistic presence throughout North, Central, and South America. She has recently implemented a new course, AADS/FREN/SPAN 4025, Afro Latin American Folklore: West African Folktales and their Transmission to the New World, which features both reading and performance of the stories under discussion.


Dr. Timothy R. Turner is Department Head and the Director of Bands in the Department of Music. His expertise includes music education, orchestral performance, and jazz, commercial and studio recording. Dr. Turner has performed with legendary names such as Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Eden and a host of others. He was a student of noted composer/educator James Richens, acclaimed Jazz musician/composer Eugene Allen Rush and conductor and mentor Dr. Sidney Jean McKay. Turner is a band/orchestral conductor/clinician for World Strides/Heritage Music Festival Company.


Dr. Pamela Waldon-Moore is the Leslie R. Jacobs Endowed Professor in the Department of Political Science where she is the department head. She is also the director of Women’s Studies and has taught AADS. She specializes in Comparative Politics and International Law and Relations. She conducts social science research, and has published journal articles on democratization, political change, the political economy of development, social justice and global citizenship.


Dr. John E. Ware is the designated Rosa Keller Endowed Chair in Music at Xavier. He teaches voice, conducting, vocal diction, vocal literature and pedagogy, and is the conductor of the Xavier Concert Choir and University Chorus. With extensive training as a classical singer, s a national choral adjudicator for World Strides/Heritage Music Festival Company, Ware travels yearly throughout the U.S., British Columbia, and Puerto Rico.


Dr. Michael White is a professor of Spanish and African American Music at Xavier. White is well known on the jazz scene. He performs, writes and lectures on jazz, and is among a very few current clarinetists to develop an original authentic interpretation of the exciting New Orleans style. He currently serves as a commissioner of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior. He has coordinated, performed in and hosted numerous jazz programs for Jazz at Lincoln Center. He tours worldwide with his own Original Liberty Jazz Band.