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A group standing outside of the UNC Project Annex building

Students visited UNC Project-Malawi, a research, care and training program established by Carolina and the Malawi Ministry of Health in 1999. (courtesy of Eunice Sahle)

Department of African, African American and diaspora studies celebrates its first endowment

Nicci Gafinowitz ’16 grew up in South Africa and traveled, studied and worked widely in the region. She and her family settled in Chapel Hill nearly 20 years ago. While studying for her master’s degree in information science at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, she met Eunice Sahle, associate professor and chair of the department of African, African American and diaspora studies (AAAD). Gafinowitz came to deeply admire her depth of experience and understanding of African life, particularly from a human rights perspective, and her ability to meaningfully translate that to international audiences.

In 2017, Sahle began planning a study abroad opportunity for undergraduates in Malawi. Gafinowitz became a strong supporter of that initiative and of a research project on socio-structural determinants of burn injuries in Malawi. Her advocacy attracted financial support that made the 2018 summer program in Malawi possible at a very low cost to students. Overall, the Gafinowitz family’s private gifts have contributed to AAAD’s mission in indelible ways.

Now they have made a lasting pledge to the department in honor of Sahle’s excellence in teaching, research, leadership and mentorship — she ended her second term as chair on June 30 — through the Dr. Eunice N. Sahle Excellence Fund in African, African American and Diaspora Studies.

“Professor Sahle has been a remarkably dedicated and effective chair, helping to build her faculty’s careers, widening opportunities for undergraduates and raising the profile of the department,” said Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs. “In honoring her this way, the endowment elevates a decade of effort she has done in service of a profoundly important intellectual endeavor and vibrant department.”

Sahle likened the support of this new endowment to an insurance policy that can always be counted upon.

“This is every chair’s dream,” she said. “It’s really an important gift that will make a difference in very substantive ways to the department. For this to happen in a very difficult moment in the world in terms of fundraising and other challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has generated — I’m really touched by the generosity of the Gafinowitz family.”

The endowment has the potential to propel a variety of departmental efforts that have flourished in recent years, many of which Sahle said the Gafinowitz family has helped support: AAAD’s annual Global Africana Conference brings scholars from around the world to UNC; its journal, Global Africana Review, focuses on undergraduate research; and since 2018, the department has run its popular summer abroad program in Malawi. The fund could also support important faculty and student research activities, for example, a study by Sahle, Marie Garlock Ph.D. ’19 and Michael Kaiyatsa, a Malawian researcher and human rights leader, examining socio-structural determinants of burn injuries.

AAAD leaders are poised to expand the department in the near future. The department’s new minor — human development, sustainability and rights in Africa and the African diaspora — debuts this year. Plans are also in the works to create an AAAD graduate program. The endowment will ensure the department has resources to sustain creative scholarly opportunities for students and faculty alike.

Gafinowitz added, “I hope that the Arts and Sciences Foundation draws even greater support for the work of the AAAD department as it continues strengthening UNC’s excellent ties to the African continent and its diaspora.”

By Samantha Weber