Since its creation in the 1960s as a safe haven for Black students, African American Student Services (AASS) at the University of New Mexico, a product of student advocacy, has provided a welcoming environment for a diverse community of Lobos.
The center offers Black students a community space to get connected on campus, meet new people, and get support.
Director of AASS, Brandi Stone has worked tirelessly at the center for almost ten years and has served as director for more than three. She worked her way up from a student position held while attending the University.
AASS, lovingly referred to as ‘Afro’ or ‘The Fro’ by its students and staff, has worked closely with the Department of Africana Studies since its creation. In fact, they originally existed as one unit and in the early years, Africana Studies was referred to as Afro-American Studies. “Afro” naturally carried over to the student services department and continues to be referenced as such, Stone recalled.
Stone finds the center to be a very liberating space for students, staff, and community to honor all identities.
“We look at it as a place for students to bring their authentic selves into the center and think about what it means to cultivate Black excellence as a scholar on this campus, and as an engaged member of their communities,” she explained.
Afro is intentional about ensuring that every student who walks in can see a part of their intersectional identity within the center. The goal of the center is to cultivate excellence as student scholars through a culturally relevant lens.
This work extends from early career and college readiness to post-graduate and career exploration, leadership development, and mentoring. Academic advisement is readily available and leadership programs and cultural workshops take place every month.“...we're also combining where you're at in your academic experience with where you might be at with your identity. We have a range of programs that ramp up early social justice as freshmen into more complex social justice work,” said Stone.
Afro provides access to a computer lab with free printing, a study conference room that students can reserve, and a meeting space lounge.
“We have over 10 Black student organizations chartered,” she said. “If you're looking to get involved on campus and looking for cultural connections, we have several organizations that meet in the center.”
Although getting involved can often feel either really exciting or a little overwhelming for first-year students, Afro strives to create an environment that feels extremely welcoming for Black UNM students. Stone said that most students will find the center to be lively.
“We consider ourselves a home away from home. Oftentimes, when you’re walking in, you’re walking into a family who’s engaged in many different conversations." - Brandi Stone
Students tend to utilize the center more socially during lunch hours and afternoons, while the mornings tend to be more academically focused when folks study and prepare for classes that day.
Upon first walking in, a visitor will usually be asked to sign in using their Lobo I.D. card so the center can get a better understanding of who the visitor is and how Afro can better support them.
First-time visitors often get a tour of the center and an introduction to other students within the center. Afro will determine a student’s major and interests, and connect them with staff right away. This way, they can see some faces within the center that are there to support them, Stone said.
Afro has an open-door policy. Those who need immediate advice can be seen by Afro integrative advisors on a walk-in basis. There are five staff ready to serve students on any given day.
In terms of programming, they recently hosted their signature Welcome Back BBQ and are currently recruiting student participation for their Sankofa retreat. Sankofa’s general definition, as described by Stone, is “to retrieve” or “to go back and get it.”
During this retreat students involved in the retreat go off campus and spend a weekend learning about the legacy of Black excellence at UNM, building community, and setting a foundation of expectations as the newest class of Black scholars on our campus. Sankofa immerses students in the community immediately and has been a strong retention effort for first and second-year students.
Stone finds authenticity in spaces such as Afro to be essential to folks within the center. Just as important is the chance to learn about each other’s experiences.
“We’ve done our best to create a space where each of those Black experiences, whether international, largely rural, or urban city experience, can all be seen here. We see you for your excellence and how it contributes to our community," Stone said. "We welcome all students into our space, and we hope that they will engage with us. Black Lobos are a part of the UNM Lobo family!” As such, the center welcomes all students who are interested in getting involved and immersing themselves in diverse cultures.