Distinguished Majors Program in African American and African Studies

About the Distinguished Majors Program (DMP)

The Distinguished Majors Program in African American and African Studies affords qualified students the opportunity to do advanced research, and to receive, at graduation, the honor of “Distinction”, “High Distinction” or "Highest Distinction." Third-year students with a superior academic record are encouraged to apply.


Entry into the DMP Program

  •        All applicants must be third-year students who have achieved a GPA of 3.40 in all coursework prior to application for the program.
  •        All applicants must have the agreement of a thesis supervisor. The supervisor can be any faculty member who offers courses that count toward the AAS major. The thesis supervisor must agree to direct the thesis research in the fall and spring semesters of the applicant’s fourth year.
  •        All applicants must have another faculty member’s agreement to serve as second reader. The second reader must be a fulltime academic or general faculty member who teaches courses at UVa.


Applying to the DMP

Application to the DMP should be made to the Director of the Distinguished Majors Program, Professor Sabrina Pendergrass, by completing the application form and submitting a one-page proposal and a list of five-to-ten relevant sources.

Application should be made to the DMP Director, Professor Sabrina Pendergrass, and copied to AAS DUP, Lisa Shutt, by March 15th.  Admission to the DMP is decided by the AAS Curriculum Committee.

DMP Application (pdf)


Completing the Distinguished Majors Program

Completing the Distinguished Majors Program and eligibility for graduation honors hinges on the successful achievement of the following CLAS and AAS terms:

  •   Satisfaction of all CLAS requirements as stated in the Undergraduate Record with an overall GPA of at least 3.40.
  •   Fulfillment of the distribution requirements for the normal AAS major.
  • At least six credits of coursework must be successfully completed at or above the 4000 level; these six credits are taken in addition to the DMP thesis seminars, AAS 4070 and AAS 4080. The 4000-level seminar with research paper required for the “regular” AAS major counts towards the six credits. The six credits at the 4000 level or higher must be courses that could count towards the AAS major. Students who wish to count a 4000-level course that is not focused on African American and African Studies or an independent study course for this requirement must submit a petition letter to the DMP Director to be considered by the AAS Curriculum Committee.
  •   Enrollment in and completion of AAS 4070 (Distinguished Major Thesis I) and AAS 4080 (Distinguished Major Thesis II).  AAS 4070 and AAS 4080 are three-credit courses for students who are completing a thesis for the Distinguished Majors Program. Students enroll in AAS 4070 with the DMP Director in the first semester of the fourth year.  In the second semester, students register for AAS 4080 with their advisor. The time students spend on the thesis courses each week is equivalent to the time spent on other three-credit courses at the university. But rather than the work of a traditional course, students will spend the time carrying out their thesis projects. Students will submit short excerpts from their work or writing to the DMP Director and/or their supervisor on a regular basis to further their progress, and they will meet regularly with the DMP Director and their supervisor to receive guidance on their work.
  •  Participation in all seminar meetings for AAS 4070 and AAS 4080. Students will meet together at least three times during the fall and at least two times during the spring. In seminar meetings, students will discuss their projects, share excerpts from their writing, and learn more about writing a thesis. Students must send copies of all assignments submitted for the seminar meetings to their thesis supervisors.
  •   Timely submission of a thesis of approximately 40 pages in length to the thesis supervisor and second reader no later than the last day of spring semester classes for Spring graduation.

Funding Opportunities

The department has grant and fellowship funding available to students who are accepted into the Distinguished Majors Program in African American and African Studies for the 2024-2025 academic year. This funding is provided with support from the Mellon Foundation. For more information, please visit "Grants and Fellowships for Thesis Research in Africana Studies"


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are Distinguished Majors exempted from any College graduation requirements?

A: No. You must complete all the area requirements listed in the Undergraduate Record, and all the requirements for the AAS major.

Q: Are Distinguished Majors exempted from the 4000-level seminar-with-a-research paper required of “regular” AAS majors?

A: No. See question 1.

Q: If I write my thesis on an Africa-related topic, does that exempt me from the Non-Western Perspectives requirement?

A: No. See question 1.

Q: Are AAS 4070 (Distinguished Major Thesis I) and AAS 4080 (Distinguished Major Thesis II) taken in addition to the nine courses required for the “regular” major?

A: No, not necessarily. The DMP comprises a minimum of 29 credits, just like the regular AAS major. Most students may need to take more than 29 credits, however, to fulfill the distribution requirements of the major and the research and thesis components of the DMP.

Q: Who chooses my thesis supervisor and my second reader?

A: You do.

Q: Must the supervisor and the second reader be faculty members?

A: Yes. The thesis supervisor and second reader must be fulltime academic or general faculty who teach courses at UVA.

Q: How long should my thesis be?

A: Your thesis should be approximately 40 pages.  

Q: Who grades my thesis?

A: The DMP Director will assign your grade for AAS 4070 (Distinguished Major Thesis I, taken in the fall).  Your thesis supervisor will assign your grade for AAS 4080 (Distinguished Major Thesis II, taken in the spring).

Q: Who determines whether or not I will be awarded honors and if so, what level of distinction I will be awarded?

A: Your supervisor and second reader will make that determination, in consultation with the DMP Director, and in light of your entire academic record.

Q: Is there an "official" deadline when the thesis is due to my supervisor for grading?

A: Yes. The last day of class instruction for the spring semester in which AAS 4080 is taken.

Q: What if I plan to graduate in August?

A: Your thesis must be submitted to your thesis supervisor and second reader no later than May 20. Be sure to inform them early in the spring if you plan to graduate in August rather than May.

Q: How soon should my thesis supervisor submit his report to the DMP Director?

A: The supervisor should plan to submit his/her report to the DMP Director on the first Friday after the last day of class instruction. If that is not possible, alternative arrangements can be made with the DMP Director at the Woodson Institute. Note that late reports may mean that your level of distinction might not appear on the graduation program.



“The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at http://records.ureg.virginia.edu/index.php.”