With the start of Black History Month, the UNM Africana Studies program is blooming with opportunities and growing in response to the political climate change occurring across the nation.

Jamal Martin, a professor in the program, said changes at the local, state, national and global level directly affect the differences, similarities and challenges that lie ahead ahead for Africana Studies.

“Undoubtedly, these public policy decisions concern behavioral economics and unfair resource allocation,” Martin said. “These decisions also correlate with national trends on educational policy, as well as curriculum development and its impact on essential learning objectives for the 21st century.”

Stephen Bishop, who is affiliated faculty in Africana Studies working on his tenure in Foreign Languages and Literatures, said the program is significant for several reasons.

“First, it brings to light the role black people have had in shaping the history and advancement of New Mexico, the United States and the world. Second, it helps students think critically about issues of social justice, human rights and bettering one's community,” Bishop said. “Third, our courses stress the skills of research, writing and speaking before groups of people, all of which are critical for success in any number of fields.”

Bishop hopes to see Africana Studies, which is identified as a program, reach departmental status soon, but acknowledges the difficulty of the process, even more so with the financial situation UNM finds itself in.

Bishop said departmental status would help students “graduate in a timely manner and go on to be leaders at the local, national, and international levels,” and give faculty of “stability, recognition and success in their research and teaching.”

This would further link Africana Studies and the University with Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico through a commitment to community service.

Martin said he has concerns about the sustainability and longevity for academic greatness in the midst of an environment that accepts neoliberal/free market solutions.

“It maintains that education perhaps exists only for the building of wealth and the acquisition of power and personal property. This same ideological belief and practice also denies frameworks on social justice in public education as outlined by John Dewey and others,” Martin said. “Thus, it oversimplifies or neglects society outcomes of learning, goals and objectives that benefit the public good or commons.”

Additionally, Martin said inconsistencies in the hiring and promoting process of tenure track faculty in the Africana Studies program could be a violation of civil rights.

“Especially, under the rubric of ‘interest convergence,’ historical institutional betrayal, and fear of African American achievement,” Martin said. “Thus, another program concern relates to the necessity of diversity, equity and inclusion in the academic enterprise.”

Faculty members are often coming up with new courses, and according to Bishop, many show and reflect developing research curiosities, negating a popular belief that Africana Studies is a “very narrow field only for a certain segment of the population.”

“That is categorically false,” he said, adding with courses that cover history, science, politics, literature and law among many other fields and classrooms full of people of all kinds of backgrounds and interests. “Everyone is welcome and everyone can find something valuable in Africana Studies.”

Martin hopes to continue to persevere in growing a sustainable educational program that mirrors emancipation from “mentacide,” or mental slavery.

“One in which all students learn to promote human dignity and dismantle oppression and injustices through transdisciplinary human sciences,” Martin said. “One in which, dignity and human freedom are acknowledged at both the individual and community level.”

Bishop said faculty in the program are excited to resurrect a big opportunity for students: To study abroad in Ghana, Africa.

Shiame Okunor ran the program before, which is returning after a decade-long hiatus.

Only 15 students will have the opportunity to travel to West Africa for a three-week long trip, beginning June 17 and commencing July 8.

The purpose is to communicate with locals and experience their everyday lives. The trip also takes place during the Bakatue Festival, where students will have the opportunity to completely immerse themselves.

For Bishop, Africana Studies gives him a backbone of support with a demanding environment to chase after his teaching and research interests.

“The faculty and students of Africana Studies are important intellectual and cultural partners in my development as a person, teacher, and scholar, and I only hope that I provide the same in return for them,” Bishop said.

Martin said Africana Studies is a vital member of the ethnic studies realm but just as important is acknowledging that Africa and people of African descent are significant.

“If ignorance, fear, doubt and superstition remains about the ethos and pathos of the African diaspora, then it becomes easy for those with power who are skilled manipulators and uncritical thinkers to inflame the passions of supremacist ideology and persuade concomitant acts of discrimination, structural domination and violence,” Martin said.

Being a faculty member, Martin said he experiences academic liberty and the chance to function as a scholar-activist through informing policies and procedures for social transformation.

“Studying the effects of identity, racialization, oppression and injustices produced by ideology, attitudes and behavior are hallmarks of our work in generating new knowledge to support research on conflict transformation,” he said.

Bishop quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said,"We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” He said he has no fears for Africana Studies.

“Whatever negatives Africana Studies may encounter in the coming years, we recognize as finite,” Bishop said, “and ones that we will ultimately overcome.”

Sarah Trujillo is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @sarahtweets_abq.