Aaron Mallory joins ASU's growing African and African American studies department


 Portrait of Aaron Mallory, ASU assistant professor of African and African American studies

Aaron Mallory, assistant professor of African and African American studies at ASU's School of Social Transformation

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The School of Social Tranformation at Arizona State University has welcomed Aaron Mallory as an assistant professor of African and African American studies.

The former Florida State University professor specializes in the Black experience, LBGTQ communities, and how racism, sexism and gender are foundational to the production of space.

The school sat down with Mallory to discuss suprising lessons in his professional journey and what he intends to bring to school.

Question: Please introduce yourself; where are you from?

Answer: My name is Dr. Aaron Mallory, I'm from Houston, Texas, and spent most of my 20s on the West Coast.

Q: Can you tell us about your professional and academic background?

A: I have a Bachelor of Arts in political economy from the Evergreen State College in Washington, and I got my PhD in geography with a minor in feminist studies from the University of Minnesota. Previously, I was an assistant professor of geography and African American studies at Florida State University. 

Q: What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I’ve learned that being a welcoming person goes a long way in professional settings. There is something about holding everyone to the same standards with mutual respect that allows for great professional environments to develop. What this means is holding space for rejection and loss, while also celebrating all the wins, however small they may be.

Q: What types of social problems do you work on? Why do you think they are important? 

A: My work is concerned with how society comes to know and understand Black queer communities in the South. I am interested in how geography functions to limit or expand how Black queer communities are understood. This is important given that under systems of oppression, marginalized communities are both the subject of harassment but are also the key to societal change. It’s amazing to see how social change comes from marginalized communities, which benefits everyone.

Q: Why do you think these problems exist?

A: I believe marginalization exists due to our inability to deal with the historical legacies of slavery, heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism in society.

Q: How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspired you to continue working for social change?

A: My parents were autoworkers from Detroit, Michigan. As young adults, during the rise of the Black Power movement, they were instilled with a sense of pride in being Black and helping others. I took this to heart as I worked with autonomous groups in Los Angeles during my 20s and did youth organizing work alongside providing workshops on toxic masculinity. It was from these experiences where I really wanted to pursue being a professor to help college students meet their career goals and instill the same sense of purpose my parents gave me growing up.

Q: What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work and teaching?

A: I am a humanities-centered social scientist that uses archival research alongside geographic information systems, critical theory and ethnography to answer questions around Black queer communities’ relationships to spaces, places and landscapes. In the classroom, I am very big on popular education and Black feminist pedagogies where we use our lived experiences as a tools to understand class material.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your work?

A: Some challenges I face are around missing data or missing information in my work. I do a lot of archive and data collection around Black queer life in the United States South, and it’s hard to track everything down to fill in gaps.

Q: What organizations or individuals outside of ASU do you interact with?

A: I work with harm reduction, 2SLGBTQIAAn expansion of the LGBTQ acronym that includes two-spirit, intersex and asexual. and other similarly aligned social justice groups. 

Q: Do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not?

A: I do not! I feel that activists are on the front lines trying to bring folks together for campaign goals or other efforts. As an academic, to paraphrase the great Dr. Joy James, I am more of a protector of knowledge who is a resource for activists doing the critical work.

Q: What are ways that people can take effective action for change in the community?

A: Believe that things are terrible but that things can change! Find people you want to change things with. Be accountable to those people!

Q: What are you most excited to bring to SST?

A: I am really excited about digital humanities work around mapping missing or unknown places. I am excited to learn from students and all the great scholars in SST.  

Q: What advice do you have for students?

A: Find your people. Work to find joy in all the good and bad that higher education offers.

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