Sean Palmer

August 23, 2016

Sean Palmer knew there was something special about Upperman African American Cultural Center, and that he wanted to be a part of it.

“The center seems to have all the right bones in place to be a powerhouse,” said Palmer, who joined UNCW in May as the center’s new director.

The center’s strong foundation wasn’t the only selling point for Palmer. Chief Diversity Officer Kent Guion’s goal to make UNCW a national model in diversity and inclusion made the Upperman Center director position even more enticing.

“I wanted to be in a place where somebody was that forward-thinking,” Palmer said, “and I want to run a cultural center that is a national model.”

Palmer previously served as the assistant director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University. While at Duke, Palmer advised several student organizations, managed and advised the National PanHellenic Council, planned academic lectures and events, and was a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students. He also served as director of student activities and residence life at Paine College in Augusta, GA.

He sees great potential for the Upperman Center, one of the few university-based African American cultural centers in the country that chronicles black student life. There are fewer than 40 centers in the country, Palmer noted, and many centers have been consolidated into multicultural centers. He hopes to build upon the work of an engaging, dynamic center that supports students, faculty, staff, alumni and the greater Wilmington community.

“Our culture center is in a place where it can be a community ambassador and support mechanism, rebuilding and developing strong multi-layered black communities,” he said.

Palmer has developed a three- to five-year plan that includes travel experiences for students and alumni, leadership development for students and cultural competency seminars.

“When we talk about cultural competency, we tend to talk about diversity and inclusion efforts for our counterparts to help them understand how to let us in,” Palmer said. “Black students, faculty and staff need to be equipped with skillsets that will allow them to think about structural racism and structural inequity and how they can navigate it.”

Palmer also wants to provide additional research and applied learning experiences through the center. For example, students who are interested in the Gullah-Geechee, descendants of African slaves who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, would visit the communities to learn more about the culture and its impact on American history.

“UNCW can be a major hub for intellectual discovery around people of African descent,” Palmer said.

-- Venita Jenkins