MSU Celebrates New Academic Learning Space for Department of African American and African Studies

Michigan State University’s College of Arts & Letters held an official opening Nov. 17 for a new space dedicated to the Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) — the first department of its kind at MSU. “The Ascension of AAAS” event celebrated the 8,400-square-foot renovated space as well as the new bachelor’s degree offered by the department.

Located on the second floor of North Kedzie Hall in MSU’s north campus, the new space combines elements of form and function to maximize scholarship, creativity, and activism among AAAS students, faculty, and staff. It was designed with the department’s vision and mission in mind, which centers on the study of Black Feminisms, Black Genders Studies, and Black Sexualities Studies.

“The Ascension of AAAS” event celebrating the opening of the new space for the Department of African American and African Studies. Pictured from left to right: Interim Provost Thomas D. Jeitschko, Dean of College of Arts & Letters Christopher P. Long, AAAS Associate Professor LeConté Dill, AAAS Academic Specialist Chamara Kwakye, University of South Carolina Distinguished Professor Nikky Finney, AAAS Chairperson Ruth Nicole Brown, AAAS Assistant Professor Gianina K.L. Strother, AAAS Professor Trimiko Melancon, AAAS Academic Specialist Yvonne Morris, Owner of Oracle’s Apothecary Candice Pizzo, and Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar R. Bennett.

“The university congratulates Inaugural Department Chairperson Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown and the dedicated and passionate students, faculty, and staff for their vision and work to establish the African American and African Studies Department and major,” said Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. “I’m excited to see the program fully inhabit the new space that is dedicated to their educational programs and to shaking hands with the first graduates of the program.”

AAAS at Michigan State University began as a Ph.D. granting program in 2002. An undergraduate minor was added in 2014, and on Feb. 15, 2019, the MSU Board of Trustees voted to support the creation of the department, making it the newest department within the College of Arts & Letters. Earlier this year, the department launched the Bachelor of Arts in African American and African Studies.

Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown speaking at “The Ascension of AAAS” event.

“Our goal has been to make the AAAS Department an irresistible destination for students, staff, and faculty — a place for Black Studies, shaped by Black Studies,” said Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters and the Honors College. “To experience the reality of this vibrant and dynamic new space is a dream come true. May it be a place of wholeness for scholars and students in African American and African Studies for generations to come.”

The new AAAS home features 18 office spaces, student workstations, a conference room, a wellness room for activities and presentations, a social space for students and student organizations, flex spaces for art galleries and performances, and a soundproof recording studio. 

“AAAS is a department where people want to gather, experience belonging independent of crisis, and collaborate, innovate, and learn,” Brown said. “Now, we can take up space in ways that uphold our vision and values to establish a presence on campus that reflects our preferred aesthetics and greatest intentions for forward movement with joy.”

Students who are majoring in African American and African Studies speak during “The Ascension of AAAS” event. Pictured from left to right: Amber McAddley, Morgan Braswell, Jhala Martin, and Ayodele Uhuru. They are among the first students at MSU to major in AAAS.

The “Ascension” event not only marked the grand opening of the new space, it also commemorated the establishment and forward movement of the AAAS Department, recognized AAAS students and faculty, and celebrated the launch of the new bachelor’s degree, which gives students the opportunity to engage and explore the lives, worlds, and cultural practices of Black peoples.

“Using the space granted by AAAS, I see myself at ease, flowing with divine timing, building trust with myself as well as with others,” said Amber McAddley, a second-year student and among the first to major in AAAS at MSU. “Personally, the space that was created signifies love, connection, and hope.”

“Using the space granted by AAAS, I see myself at ease, flowing with divine timing, building trust with myself as well as with others. Personally, the space that was created signifies love, connection, and hope.”

Amber McAddley, AAAS major

The AAAS Department encourages students to study and appreciate the complexity of Black communities as well as the particularities of Blackness as it is lived, imagined, and created. Students also are directed to the promise and possibilities of collaborative, interdisciplinary work, and research. 

“AAAS plays a distinct and critical role in the education of our students and the generation of knowledge that is vital to our local and global understanding of key issues that impact the lives of all Spartans and global citizens,” said Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D. “Establishment of the degree-granting program bolsters MSU’s position as a leader in world-class educational offerings.”

Discussions about the new space commenced shortly after Dr. Brown was appointed the Inaugural Chairperson in July 2020 following a national search. At that time, the department was housed in a soon-to-be-outgrown space in North Wells Hall.

Department of African American and African Studies faculty members at “The Ascension of AAAS” event. Pictured from left to right: LeConté Dill, Chamara Kwakye, Ruth Nicole Brown, Yvonne Morris, Trimiko Melancon, and Gianina K.L. Strother.

Considering the department’s unique programmatic needs, AAAS faculty proposed a design for the new space to accommodate the department’s vision of embracing the study of Black Feminisms, Black Genders Studies, and Black Sexualities Studies, as well as integrative education that engages Blackness locally and transnationally.  

As plans were being made for the new space, AAAS faculty also were working to build the new department, including creating the curriculum, hiring faculty and staff, and establishing the new major.

“Not only were we building our department and faculty, but we were also building a new physical space that reflects who we are,” Brown said. “It is now a dream come true to walk through the halls and to move into a space that was configured just for our needs.”