For over 30 years, Dr. Kibibi Mack-Shelton has spearheaded coursework and research in Africana studies and history at universities across the country. Now, she is joining the Department of History faculty as the new coordinator of the Africana Studies minor, an interdisciplinary program exploring contributions that Black individuals have made to civilization.
Before moving to the sunshine state this year, Mack-Shelton served as chair of the Africana Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her research interests focus on 19th to early 20th-century Southern Black Women and family culture, the Black Diaspora, and comparative history. For Spring 2023, she currently teaches Intro to Africana Studies and Black American History II.
In her role, Mack-Shelton looks forward to creating more diverse coursework in the minor and raising awareness of topics in African American history for students of all majors. Read on to learn more about Mack-Shelton’s background, accomplishments and plans for the future of the Africana Studies program at UCF.
1. Her Interest in Africana Studies Started with Black History in February
With February in full swing, Mack-Shelton reflects on how her academic interest in Africana Studies began – back from her earlier primary to secondary school days.
“It all started with Black History in February,” Mack-Shelton said. “My interest was a spin-off from February’s Black History Week, and I was fascinated to suddenly learn about groups of Black folks who made all these achievements. This was not a part of the regular class work, and it was a treat to learn something different about others who looked like me. Then, later when it changed from Black History Week to Black History Month, I found it all to be boring since it focused on the same group of Blacks, making me wonder if others also made contributions to society.”
Mack-Shelton then gained an interest in learning more about the untold stories of African American history. As an English major at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, she was fascinated with unusual classes seldom offered at the time, such as Afro-American Literature or African history. But when she entered Northwestern University’s graduate program in Linguistics, it was a course in Sociolinguistics that compelled her to instead pursue graduate studies in African history.
Mack-Shelton went on to receive a master’s degree in history at Northwestern, followed by a PhD in history from Binghamton University – SUNY.
“I was hooked on learning more about the Black experience in the U.S. and beyond,” Mack-Shelton said.
2. She Makes Classes Relevant to Today’s Generation
When developing courses, Mack-Shelton believes it’s important for professors to listen to students regarding subjects they’re interested in. In her past roles, this has resulted in a variety of classes based on current issues, both positive and negative, related to Black communities throughout the Black Diaspora.
Her course development includes classes like Road to Black Lives Matter, where students learn and research organizations and individuals who worked to stop violence against the Black community from as early as the slave era, up to contemporary movements.
Another course inspired by student discussions and questions raised in class is From Black Face to Blackin’ In, which explores the history of cultural appropriation of the Black community.
“I’d like to see the number of courses offered grow, particularly courses that students find more interesting,” Mack-Shelton said. “I want the department to offer courses that a math major may decide to take as an elective, because of what the course is about.”
In creating these courses, Mack-Shelton hopes to not only make learning African American history more appealing for students — but also to contribute more information to what is typically taught during Black History Month.
“I would love to do a course on the history of rhythm and blues, where students not only learn about early African American music, but the dances that go with it,” Mack-Shelton said.
In making classes more interactive, Mack-Shelton also provides extra credit opportunities for students to attend community events.
3. She Believes in the Importance of the Humanities
Mack-Shelton emphasizes that students, regardless of their majors, must be exposed to learning about other cultures. Being open-minded toward people who are different from you, she says, is crucial for success in any workplace today.
“For example, even if you’re a doctor or scientist, you still work with humans. And you’re going to work with different ethnic groups,” Mack-Shelton said. “If you’ve only ever been around one race or ethnic group all your life, and now you have a job where there are folks of all different backgrounds working in the same office, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble with being ignorant. Knowledge makes you wiser, and diverse knowledge prepares you to interact with others different from yourself; it prepares you for the unexpected, and that’s very important.”
4. She Has Big Hopes for the Future of the Africana Studies Program – and the World
“I’m hoping to increase the number of students minoring in Africana Studies so that the program will become more visible on campus,” Mack-Shelton said. “It’s important for students of all majors to learn about subjects like Africana Studies, Women’s Studies, LGBTQ+ Studies, Latinx Studies, Indigenous Studies and Asian Studies. Students are our future leaders, and they are paving the way for what the world will look like — the more open-minded they are, it’s going to be a better world. A world that’s inclusive, fair and equal.”
The Africana Studies minor is an interdisciplinary program that offers courses in a wide range of subject areas such as African American studies, Africana history, film, fine arts, Latin American studies, literature, political science, psychology, sociology and anthropology. Learn more about the program here.