Cultural centers

10 Questions with the Director of the UConn African American Cultural Center

In our recurring 10-question series, Neag School catches up with students, alumni, faculty and others throughout the year to offer insight into their Neag School experience and their career, research or current community activities.

As UConn Director of the H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center (AACC) and Affiliate Professor at the Institute of African Studies, Willena Kimpson Price ’90 Ph.D. was instrumental in supporting the higher education experiences of African American students at UConn over the past three decades. Price led AACC to be recognized across campus and across the United States as an academic center that fosters understanding and appreciation of the culture, history, and traditions of people of African descent.

Price’s career in professional education began as a fourth-grade teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She took a break from teaching to become a full-time stay-at-home mom, later resumed her teaching career as a teacher in the gifted and talented Dallas Independent School District program in Dallas, in Texas. Her career continued to blossom when she moved to the Syracuse School District in Syracuse, New York, where she taught in the gifted program and became a school and then district administrator, focusing on students. gifted and talented grades 2-12.

A graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, Price earned a master’s degree in curriculum and teaching and a 6th-grade certificate in educational administration from the State University of New York, as well as a Ph.D. in Instructional Leadership from UConn’s Neag School of Education. Here, she explores her 30-year journey at the University of Connecticut, including her work with the AACC.

Willena Kimpson Price speaks at the annual Kwanzaa Celebration Dinner in the Student Union Ballroom in 2012. (Ariel Dowski/UConn)

Q: What motivated you to pursue a PhD. in instructional leadership at the Neag School of Education, and what was the subject of your thesis?

A: I spent my professional career as an educator. However, my greatest motivation is my calling to be a servant leader, and my love for teaching and learning has been my motivation for pursuing a Ph.D. in the educational direction. My thesis focused on the accession of African women presidents of historically white public universities.

Q: How did the doctorate go? helped you in your role at the AACC?

A: Acquire a doctorate. in higher education is an amazing accomplishment, and it gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment to be a role model for my students. Many are in the ranks of first-generation students. I am very proud that many of my students have pursued and are considering pursuing PhD programs through our example.

Q: What would you say to others considering pursuing a PhD?

A: The best advice I can give is to strive for excellence in all things, hard work, passion and patience.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher at Neag School?

A: Oh, I love this question! My favorite teacher was Harry J. Hartley, who served as the 12th president of the University of Connecticut. Hartley had twice served as interim president of UConn, vice president of finance and administration, and dean of the UConn School of Education. Harry was a beloved college president and extraordinary college professor. He was a model of all that the academy represents for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Q: When you started at the AACC in 1993, what was your role then and how has it evolved?

A: When I started at UConn in 1993, AACC was in the basement of the old student union. Let’s just say our Center wasn’t exactly a highly desirable space. We are grateful that over the years our center was relocated to the coveted space that was once the University of Connecticut Ballroom, through the efforts of then university president Philip Austin. This is a wonderfully beautiful and well-appointed office.

My role evolved to gain collaborations and partnerships across the University over the year. One of the highlights was the presentation of an honorary diploma to the former President of the Republic of Senegal, His Excellency Abdou Diouf. I was the university host for the plane full of dignitaries who attended the launch ceremony. I was also the University Liaison Officer to the Senegalese Embassy, ​​headed by Ambassador Mamadou Seck, in Washington, DC. We also directed faculty, staff, community and university administrators to the Republic of Senegal. Our UConn delegation had the honor of having a private audience with the President of Senegal. Additionally, I was invited to have tea with the First Lady of Senegal at the Presidential Palace, the official residence of the President of the Republic of Senegal. It was quite a splendid time.

“We must become better listeners and renew our individual and collective commitments to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

– Willena Kimpson ’90 Ph.D.

Q: Why did you decide to join UConn in 1993? How has it changed since?

A: I am so proud to have been affiliated with the University of Connecticut family for many years. It was amazing at the time, and it got stronger and stronger over the years. We are a global institution recognized worldwide for our excellence as a superior public higher education institution.

Three adults wearing masks.
Willena Kimpson Price, pictured middle, meets an AACC student left and Angela Rola, director of the UConn Asian American Cultural Center, right at the AACC Welcome Dinner in September 2021. The dinner welcome was the big kick-off to a year of community activities. (Photo credit: AACC)

Q: What has been the impact of the AACC on the University and its community over the past 30 years?

A: The African American Cultural Center was established in 1968 to help African American students pursue the coveted experience of higher education. In 2018, we celebrated our 50th year of service to UConn, the State of Connecticut, and beyond. Our community represents the beauty of the vast African diaspora. We have demonstrated, over the years, that we have supported our students in their adjustment to college life and the rigors of academic challenges. We promote the development of cultural awareness, academic excellence, social awareness and personal achievement. The African American Cultural Center is a warm, welcoming, and intellectually stimulating environment that contributes to the vitality of the UConn campus for all students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Q: With the more recent prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement, how has the AACC been able to contribute to the discussion, and how can we continue to move this conversation forward in a positive way?

A: Our AACC family has been engaged in discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement for all the years of our existence. This is not a new discussion for us. We have lived it our whole life. We must become better listeners and renew our individual and collective commitments to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Q: The AACC has recently launched Black History Month with a special event featuring famed civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump and the brother of the late George Floyd, Philonise Floyd. Why are these types of events important to the UConn community and what was the impact of stakeholder feedback?

A: The opening ceremony was wonderfully well received by our students, faculty and staff. Attorney Benjamin Crump was here in person several years ago to talk about the Trayvon Martin case. It was wonderful to see him again, albeit in the virtual setting. George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, was a pretty splendid addition to the program.

It is extremely important for us as a university community to observe Black History Month in the month of February, although the AACC celebrates Black History Month every month of the year. civil. Our students were especially touched by Advocate Crump’s longstanding commitment to civil rights issues and justice for all. Interestingly, as we were wrapping up the virtual reception that preceded the show, attorney Crump said he had just received word of another police killing in Minneapolis. We later learned that Amir Locke, a black man, was shot dead while police were executing a no-knock warrant in a homicide investigation. The students are very disappointed that these murders of black men continue to plague the black community.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be?

A: The advice I give myself every day is: “To whom is given, it takes a lot! and “Don’t worry about anything!”