With the hiring of a director to create an African American Studies minor program, Western Carolina University has come one step closer to fulfilling its promise to add the offering to its curriculum.
David Walton, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, has been named the director of WCU’s African American Studies minor. Walton will begin his new role, which includes being an assistant professor in the Department of History, Aug. 1.
In the fall of 2018, a committee was formed to explore how to implement an African American Studies minor after a group of African American students presented the request, among others, to university administration to help improve the climate of diversity and inclusion on campus after several racial incidents occurred in 2018.
“I think it’s real important that we were able to follow through with that promise,” said David Kinner, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I think it’s important to pursue programs that address student interests and identify and allow people to find things that they’re interested in and help them explore who we are in a larger country, but also who they are as a people. It’s in line with a lot of things we were already doing, but an important piece for us to add to our curriculum.”
Walton is completing his third year at UNC Pembroke where he taught “Introduction to African American History,” “African American History since 1863, the Black Power Movement,” “The History of Hip Hop,” “The Black Feminist Movement,” “The History of Sub-Saharan Africa,” and “Introduction to African American Studies.”
Prior to joining the faculty in Pembroke, Walton was a teaching assistant/instructor of record at Michigan State University; a part-time faculty member at Eastern Michigan University; and an adjunct instructor at Oakland Community College in Michigan.
He received a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan in 2005, a master’s degree in U.S. and world history from Eastern Michigan in 2008, and a doctorate in history and African American and African studies from Michigan State in 2017.
“David stood out because he has experience in his present position at Pembroke in running an African American Studies program,” Kinner said. “He seems to have strong connections within that academic community. He talks very passionately about building a program. We really felt like he would be a good fit for starting a new program. I think he’s also a strong historian, but we really wanted to be sure that whoever we hired could really build a program.”
And that was one of several reasons the position at WCU was appealing to Walton.
“One was that the students and community wanted it,” Walton said. “Two, it’s a great opportunity, almost a once-in-a-lifetime, to not only create a program, but then also guide it as it grows into potentially being a department. For me, to be involved in growing and expanding black studies, it’s the dream of every junior scholar.”
Walton’s vision for the program, which is scheduled to begin during the 2021-22 academic year, is to place an emphasis on applied African American studies, applying the knowledge and the skills to improve African American communities, while also seeing the program become central to the campus’s expression of diversity, particularly the African diaspora cultural expression, he said.
In addition, Walton said he would like to see students share their present their class projects with schools, churches and local libraries, as well as present their research at academic conferences. He wants WCU to have the premiere African American Studies program in the state.
“I want to create a pipeline out of Western Carolina for those interested in pursuing a graduate-level degree in black studies,” Walton said. “I want kids in high schools in North Carolina who say, ‘I want to get a degree in black studies,’ to say, ‘I’ve got to go to Western Carolina because there’s no other place to go.’”
Kinner said Walton will spend his first year in Cullowhee assessing the needs of the program, determining what current courses will become a part of the program and deciding what type of courses will be added.
This fall, Walton will teach an “Introduction to African American Studies” class and a to-be-determined upper level course.