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 Africana Studies director Kirsten Buick sits in her home. 

Kirsten Buick ready to take helm as director of Africana Studies

Africana Studies program to move to department status


Intensely passionate about mentoring students, Kirsten Pai Buick is ready to lead Africana Studies as director at the University of New Mexico.

Africana Studies, which was voted to move to department status by the Faculty Senate last week, will teach undergraduate students and, eventually, graduate students.

“The history of African Diaspora people in this country is fascinating, and it’s a story that can’t be contained to one discipline, and so the multidisciplinary nature of Africana Studies means that we also have our eyes trained on political science and sociology and art and theater and dance and English … Just any place on this campus that you could point to, African Diaspora people are there,” Buick said.

The department’s model will be based on the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin, according to Buick. She said while the department likely won’t implement this model completely during her tenure, she wants to “provide a foundation for a strong department.”

“My goals for the department are to kind of conceptually honor the past and move us forward through, in the beginning, very selective hires. So I want tenure track assistant professors who can teach not only the curriculum we have but an adjusted curriculum that looks to the future,” Buick said.

Buick wants to partner with UNM’s BA/MD program because “unfortunately racism still plays a part in modern medicine.” A degree in Africana Studies, Buick said, can help “attune students to the problems in modern medicine that we haven’t let go of.”

Professor of sociology Nancy López started at UNM the same year as Buick, and both of them were among the small or only selection of Black women tenured then to their respective colleges. Both have since served on numerous committees, drawing from their expertise in diverse subject matter.

“It just speaks to the need to diversify our faculty and faculty that have expertise in these areas that are of high interest to students of every background but particularly those students that are underrepresented,” López said.

Buick served as associate director of the Africana Studies program about 10 years ago under then-director Finnie Coleman with the understanding that the program would transition to a department, which didn’t happen. Buick then went back to the College of Fine Arts as an art professor.

Now, the program is in the process of being finalized to become a department, according to Buick.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been on this campus for over 51 years now, and Chicano/ Chicana Studies and Native American Studies made the move earlier and so they paved the way for a university that continues to grant program status to ethnic studies programs but not departmental status, and so when they became departments, it was a hopeful sign, actually, that Africana Studies could also become a department,” Buick said.

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Buick said there was “a clean sweep in terms of administration” with President Garnett Stokes, Vice President for equity and inclusion Assata Zerai, Provost James Holloway and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Arash Mafi, who all, Buick said, helped move the program to department status. López said the move to department status will allow diverse faculty, “particularly those of the African Diaspora,” to explore education that is “often viewed as different and maybe not necessarily important in other arenas.”

“Having an intellectual home for people who are interrogating questions of interest to the African Diaspora is incredibly important, not only for UNM but for the nation and global(ly),” López said.

It’s important to note that the graduate studies component of Africana Studies will be coming, according to López.

“I don’t want the program to simply be known as an undergraduate program; there will be a graduate component and that’s incredibly important because eventually that leads to doctorates and people who will be the next generation of faculty,” López said.

Buick is going to slow down on teaching classes in the art department, but that won’t stop her commitment to the College of Fine Arts. In her 20 years at the University, she’s served on many search teams for the college and is proud of the diverse faculty in the department of art. Buick specifically mentioned that approximately half of faculty within the art history sect are people of color.

“I’m very proud of my students. They are the reason I’ve stayed here for over 20 years and why I plan to retire from here,” Buick said.

López said Buick’s attributes as “an outstanding scholar, an outstanding teacher, an amazing leader” and many more will allow her to successfully lead Africana Studies.

“She brings a very unique set of skills and talents and passion and, what I say in Spanish, corazón — heart — for this work,” López said. “And I’m thrilled that she’s at the helm.”

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @fabflutist2716

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