By Erin Holaday Ziegler
University of Kentucky English professor Frank X Walker is not one to sit still. And the new director of both the African American Studies & Research and the Africana Studies Programs doesn't expect his students to either.
"I'd really like to make this a strong travel study program," Walker said of the newly combined African American & Africana studies minor in the College of Arts & Sciences. "And not just domestically; I'd like to take our students to Nashville, to Washington D.C. and New York as well as to partner programs abroad."
Walker is working to combine the African American Studies & Research Program with Africana Studies to create an area of UK with greater community presence, international study and eventually an undergraduate major.
The renowned Affrilachian poet and creative writing professor envisions a program with both global and local focus.
"There's the idea of a local, regional and international impact; and through travel outside of Kentucky, students will grow to appreciate the specialness of the Commonwealth," Walker said.
"Students often can't see it until they leave."
"They have to experience travel in the first person, if we're going to do it right," he added. "It's a global world, and students need to be prepared to be active global citizens."
In addition to international faculty exchanges and student trips around the world to the Caribbean, Africa and Canada, Walker would like to take students on a Civil Rights tour of the South, a Harlem Renaissance tour of New York and to visit America's greatest Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well.
"I've had a lot of interest from students," he said. "Many leave their communities without much knowledge of their own history. Our classes are their first choice, because they want to learn more about themselves."
Long-term, Walker would like to increase the number of minors and hire at least nine new professors to expand the program to a major. "We're designing new classes as we speak," he said. "We’re seeking student input that will directly affect the curriculum."
Walker has a host of plans for the revised African American Studies and Research Program space in Breckinridge Hall as well.
The new director plans to literally and figuratively knock down walls in Breckinridge, as he forges linkages with Anne Kingsolver in Appalachian Studies and the Appalachian Center and with other departments across campus, as well as with the Black Student Union, the African Student Union and other student organizations on campus with similar missions as the new program.
"I want our student groups to have their offices next to ours," Walker said. "Our program should be a support system for African-American student groups, faculty and staff on campus."
Walker plans to add bright murals to the walls of Breckinridge, devoted to UK's vibrant African-American history. The images would celebrate the accomplishments of pioneers like AASRP's founder, sociology professor Doris Wilkinson and record setting student athletes like Valerie Still.
AASRP will continue to organize its annual programming this year, including the Carter G. Woodson Series this fall and the Black Women's Conference in March.
"This is still a program with unlimited growth potential," Walker said. "My goal right now is to find ways in which goals and interests overlap and to get more people on board."