Afro-American Bridge Program

What is the Bridge Program?

The Bridge Program is an academic partnership between the MA in the Department of Afro-American Studies and the PhD in the English Department. It is designed to allow students to enter the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Afro-American Studies, and to transfer to the English Department to complete a PhD in English with a focus on American literature or Composition studies. The Department of Afro-American Studies does not offer a PhD, and before the inauguration of the "bridge," students who completed an Afro-American Studies MA in literary studies who wished to continue on to a doctoral degree in the field had to either begin graduate work anew in the English Department or pursue further studies at another university.

Who is eligible?

Any Master’s degree student in the Afro-American Studies Department at UW-Madison with a concentration in Afro-American literature is eligible to apply for the Bridge Program.

What is the application procedure?

The best time for a student to apply for the Bridge Program is when she or he initially applies for admission to graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. Madison. At that time, the student should submit a formal application to both the Afro-American Studies and English Departments, sending in two copies of the application for admission (one to each department) and enclosing a separate statement with each relative to her or his future academic and intellectual plans. The student will then be considered for admission in each department. If admitted at that time to both departments, the student will automatically be eligible to participate in the Bridge Program as soon as she or he begins work on the MA in Afro-American Studies. The student will not be required to reapply to the English Department on completion of the MA in Afro-American Studies or to pay the UW Graduate School application fee more than once.

What is the application procedure for students who do not initially apply to both departments at the same time?

Students who do not apply to the Department of English in their initial application for admission to the University of Wisconsin and the Department of Afro-American Studies can still apply to the Bridge Program once they are on campus. Application to the Program should be made in the fall of the students' first or second MA year. At the student's request, the Department of Afro-American Studies will send a copy of the applicant's original file to the English Department for consideration of admission to the Bridge Program along with a completed Change/Addition of Major form. The applicant must forward a statement of purpose for wanting to pursue the English PhD along with his or her scores on the GRE subject exam, and request a letter of recommendation for inclusion in the file from at least one of her or his professors at the University of Wisconsin. Recommendations may come from professors in either the Afro-American Studies or English Departments.

What kind of funding is available through this program?

Each year the University of Wisconsin offers a small number of fellowships earmarked for minority candidates. These are Advanced Opportunity Fellowships (AOFs). A small number of the minority students who apply for admission to the Afro-American Studies Department receive one of these for one year and a second year of support by way of a TAship or Project Assistantship in the Department. Students who apply to both the Afro-American and English Departments at the same time to do the MA/PhD Bridge Program, may receive a second year of AOF support as part of their five-year English Department fellowship/Teaching Assistantship package. This is one advantage of applying to the two departments simultaneously.

Minority students who are recruited into this program with an AOF (Advanced Opportunity Fellowship) for their first year can expect to receive a second year of financial support from the department in the form of a TA-ship or a Project Assistantship (assisting a professor with his or her research in ways defined by the professor). If a student does not complete the MA degree by the end of two years (four semesters), the department assumes no further financial responsibility for that student. Students who apply to the Bridge Program and do not complete the Afro-American Studies MA by the end of the summer of their second year will not be permitted to proceed into the PhD program until they fulfill that requirement.

Students admitted to the English Department's graduate program in their first application to UW-Madison receive a guarantee of a TA-ship for four years to support them during their PhD years. TA-ships include complete tuition remission (i.e., the University pays the student's tuition), an excellent package of health benefits, and a salary. Bridge Program students who begin their studies in the Afro-American Studies Department are evaluated for possible TA contracts at the time their applications for the PhD program are considered. The English Department does not normally admit students to the PhD program without some guaranteed support. Most often this takes the form of a four-year TA contract.

Should I wait to apply to the Bridge Program?

The main reason some students wait to apply to the Bridge Program is usually because they had not considered the option of a PhD in English at this time in their careers. Some may have been unsure of their potential to meet the challenges of graduate work and feel more comfortable "trying" it out by enrolling in an MA program. This may mean that these students have not yet taken the GREs which the English Department requires for admission and the Afro-American Studies Department does not. Indeed, some students discover that after a year of graduate work they accrue stronger academic credentials and feel better prepared to take the GREs. A stronger overall academic record gained through successful graduate work toward the M.A. in Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison can certainly strengthen a student's chances of acceptance into the Ph.D. Program.

However, Bridge Program students, especially those with AOFs, who apply initially to both Afro-American Studies and the English Departments have two advantages: (1) they enter the university with their Teaching Assistant contract (or other form of support) and financial aid package guaranteed for a period of at least six years, two in Afro-American Studies and four in English; and (2), it is probably slightly easier for a student to win a Teaching Assistant contract in the English Department at the beginning of his or her UW Madison career because the Department makes its support guarantees (including awarding Teaching Assistant Contract) a year in advance. An initial application to the English Department will guarantee that the Teaching Assistant contracts for which entering students are competing have not already been distributed.

Are there joint faculty who teach in both Afro-American and English?

We hope to increase the number of joint faculty in the future. The Afro-American Studies Department currently cross-lists several advanced courses with the English Department that are open to English Department graduate students.

Is the Bridge Program only for minority candidates?

No. The Bridge Program is available to any applicant who enters the MA Program in Afro-American Studies with a concentration in literature. It is true, though, that one of the purposes of the Bridge Program is to keep talented minority candidates at UW-Madison and to strengthen and support the presence of minority scholars in the profession of English and American literature. A second purpose of the bridge is to strengthen and develop the professional presence of Afro-American Studies as a field of study with literature as one of its most important disciplines. Thus, under this second rationale, non-minority students have successfully participated in the Bridge Program.

What kinds of dissertations do people who cross the Bridge usually write?

Bridge students are not limited to a specific subject or area for their dissertations. However, most students who cross the Bridge seem predisposed to specialize in 19th and/or 20th century American literature. The majority take African American literature as one of their areas of specialization and make it a significant component of their dissertations. Certainly many students who cross the Bridge write dissertations entirely or substantially on African-American literature. But these are individual choices that a student makes in consultation with his or her adviser. Students crossing the bridge also fulfill the regular requirements for the English PhD and choose their thesis topics accordingly. There are also PhD students in English who do not start in Afro-American Studies and do not cross the bridge who nevertheless write dissertations primarily or partially in African-American literature. Once a student crosses the bridge she or he is indistinguishable administratively from other PhD students in the English Department.

Will I have to fulfill the requirements of the English Department's M.A. degree?

The Bridge program represents a strategic plan agreed upon by both the English and Afro-American Studies Departments to permit students to cover the basic requirements of the English Masters degree while completing a degree in Afro-American Studies. To receive a PhD in English, Bridge Program students must also fulfill the following requirements of the English Masters degree: English 800 (a graduate course that serves as the Introduction to Literary Theory); one course in English language (a requirement that can be fulfilled either by taking English 700, Introduction to Composition, or by taking English 520, Old English), two graduates-only courses in Pre- 1800 and to graduates-only courses in Post-1800 British, American or Anglophone literature. Most Bridge Program participants fulfill 2-3 of these English Department requirements while they are still Masters students in Afro-American Studies. While students are not required to do so, they are strongly urged to take at least that number of required courses before beginning their PhD studies. If a student does not take these courses early on, she or he will simply have to fulfill these requirements while taking PhD courses. It is better to complete such requirements expeditiously and move on to PhD work quickly.

The English Masters degree takes only one year and the Afro-American Studies Masters degree takes two years. Will I ever make up the time or get credit for the extra year if I begin with the Afro-American Masters Degree?

The Afro-American Studies Masters takes two years to complete because students are required to write a thesis. For students who do not continue academic work beyond the Afro-American Studies Masters, completing this Masters certifies they have achieved knowledge in research methods and critical thinking, and done serious writing beyond their course work. Having these credentials enhance their current marketability and offer additional preparation for subsequent opportunities in professional training. The Masters in the Department of English does not require a thesis because students engage many more years than in an MA program in developing research and writing skills that culminate in their dissertations which are major scholarly efforts. For Madison's Bridge Program students, however, the thesis in African American literature offers a solid foundation in African American literature and the opportunity to begin to develop the research and writing expertise that will serve them well during their PhD years and beyond.

Additionally, since the Department of English requires a PhD minor of all doctoral students, students in the Bridge Program have the opportunity to begin work on the minor while taking courses in Afro-American Studies. The minor usually involves taking four courses outside the department in which the student completes the PhD. Part of the strategic plan of the Bridge Program allows students to count non-literature courses taken as a Masters student in Afro-American Studies toward their PhD minor courses. With the guidance of a PhD adviser, Bridge students can usually complete two courses toward their minor by the time they are ready to cross to the other side of the Bridge Program.

Can I apply to the English Department's doctoral program in Composition and Rhetoric through the Bridge Program?

A participant in the Composition and Rhetoric Bridge Program receives an MA degree focusing on Afro-American Studies, and then joins the Program in Composition and Rhetoric within the Department of English for a PhD. Students in Afro-American Studies should indicate their interest no later than the end of their first year of Master's work.  Bridge students should complete Introduction to Composition Studies (English 700)  as part of their first-stage level coursework. Certification in a foreign language is also strongly advised.

For additional information please contact:

Department of Afro-American Studies
Phone 608-263-0425
Fax 608-263-7198

Director of Graduate Studies
English Department
Phone 608-263-3751
Fax 608-263-3709