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UNC hires faculty to study health and wellness in communities of color

Dr. Gonzalez- Kayden Hunt
Shannon Malone Gonzalez, Ph.D., is a new UNC associate sociology professor. She researches the health and wellness of communities of color.

The UNC College of Arts and Sciences has hired six new faculty members to study health and wellness in communities of color and issues of U.S. slavery.

As part of the Health and Wellness in Communities of Color cluster hire, the initiative  brings faculty together from different departments to ensure the topics they work on come from a collaborative, synergistic approach and interdisciplinary manner, Terry Rhodes, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said in an email statement.

“The idea for hiring faculty with expertise to work in the broad area of health and wellness in communities of color came about from feedback from within the College that these are areas of vital importance and ones in which Carolina could make a difference,” Rhodes said.

The cluster hire includes eight faculty members in total, with two who have yet to be hired. Four of the hired faculty members will begin their work this semester and the other two will begin the spring term.

The six faculty members hired are:

  • Malia Blue, department of exercise and sport science, fall 2021
  • Lisa Calvente, department of communication, fall 2021
  • Shannon Gonzalez, department of sociology, fall 2021
  • Brandi Brimmer, department of African, African American and diaspora studies, fall 2021
  • Sophie McCoy, department of biology, spring 2022
  • Desire Kedagni, department of economics, spring 2022

The University will continue their search for hiring a faculty member for the department of psychology and neuroscience and another in the department of history to study U.S. slavery into next year.

Gonzalez, who is researching health and wellness, said the Southeastern United States is basically home for her. Being from the South and having family in the Southeast, she was drawn by the chance to return to the region.

“I’ve specifically done projects on Black women and policing in the South," Gonzalez said. "And so, for me, it was really exciting to have an opportunity to come to UNC, to come back to the Southeast."

Calvente also has a strong connection to UNC. She was part of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP), a 10-week program housed at UNC. Calvente then received her master’s degree at UNC.

“The MURAP program really kind of shaped how I looked at research, how I looked at the academy and primarily how I looked at faculty of color doing work in the academy,” she said. 

Two faculty members — Brimmer and another member who is yet to be hired — will conduct research on U.S. slavery.

“I enjoy teaching and mentoring students,” Brimmer said. "I wanted to continue to write scholarly books that shine the light on Black life in the American South, especially the experiences of enslaved and free Black women."

Brimmer published her first book "Claiming Union Widowhood: Race, Respectability, and Poverty in the Post-Emancipation South" in 2020, and said she is eager to use the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library for her next project.

Rhodes said hiring the two faculty members with expertise on U.S. slavery came from a desire to further strengthen the research area in UNC's history and African, African American and diaspora studies departments.

Looking forward

Gonzalez, Calvente and Brimmer said there had been informal meetings and discussions within the cluster hire group.

Brimmer, who graduated from Spelman College, a historically black college and university in Atlanta, Georgia, said the informal meetings have helped her with transition and orientation — especially in coming from a school with a smaller student population.

“So far, these meetings have helped me orient myself and connect with scholars from across the campus,” Brimmer said.

Calvente said that she appreciates the cluster hire because of the way that it feels like a built-in cohort of sorts.

“There are people that come in with me that I could have these kinds of conversations with, that I can kind of bounce ideas off of, that we can really create a community around the same concepts, in terms of research and teaching,” she said.

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Gonzalez said she is interested in seeing the University's commitment to research on anti-Black and anti-Brown racism. 

Calvente is also excited to see more cluster hires with a focus on implementing change, specifically in terms of racial equity and fighting against institutional racism and white supremacy.

“There's something about a cluster hire and the initiative of really trying to work through what a campus and a University does not have,” Calvente said. “I feel proud to be part of that kind of work.”

The members of the cluster hire are also hopeful to see the impact of their work on students. The cluster hire cohort is crafting courses for students to learn about slavery, anti-Black racism and police crimes within their specializations, Calvente said. 

She also said course materials will focus on the effect of these issues on physical, mental and emotional wellness.  

“We're also equipped to have students reach beyond that, to make the changes that we desperately need today," Calvente said.

@keerthanagotur |