Four months after her appointment as Chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Bénédicte Boisseron feels the energy.

When former chair Matthew Countryman took leave during the 2021-22 academic year, Boisseron stepped into the position in an interim role. Returning to that work, Boisseron said, only feels natural.

“(As interim chair), I learned about the ins and outs of DAAS, got to know the colleagues and the staff more intimately, and became more personally involved with the mission of the department,” Boisseron said. “It was an enriching experience.”

Specializing in Black diaspora studies, francophone studies, and animal studies, Boisseron also maintains affiliations with the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and the Department of Comparative Literature. This semester, she teaches DAAS 498, entitled “Black Ecologies: Race and Nature,” which draws on her previous scholarship in animal studies and Black ecologies. Within the class, students explore convergences of race and ecology in both an environmental justice setting and also through a Black contemplative lens.

“For their final projects, students get to create podcasts sharing their personal views on the topics and what they have learned,” Boisseron said. “You can feel the momentum in the classroom."

Expanding on environmental humanities is one of Boisseron’s main strategic points as chair. Despite political upheaval over teaching Black studies and a national shift away from humanities education, Boisseron points to the field's interdisciplinary nature as a reason for its burgeoning effect. In addition to developments in coursework and research, the DAAS team itself expanded in the past year, hiring six new junior faculty and continuing a search for a new colleague in Black urban studies.

“We want to nurture our junior faculty as best we can,” Boisseron said. “We are here to support them, and (in a post-pandemic setting) we have the capacity to do that. I am optimistic about chairing DAAS this year and into the future."