Historic faculty hiring: Meet Alissa Ujie Diamond


Published April 23, 2024

Alissa Diamond.

This fall, UB welcomed 154 new full-time faculty in what is believed to be the largest cohort of new faculty since the university joined SUNY in the 1960s. The historic initiative, “Advancing Top 25: Faculty Hiring,” is considered transformative and has already attracted some of the most promising and established researchers and scholars from across the country.

UBNow sat down with one of those new faculty members — Alissa Ujie Diamond, assistant professor, School of Architecture and Planning — to learn more about her research, why she chose UB and what it means to work here during this exciting time of growth.

Can you talk about your research?

I approach research and teaching through the framework of entangled landscapes, which centers on justice and equity. My research has two facets. My historical work focuses on racial capitalism, resistances and spatial history in the United States to understand the root causes and historical trajectories of today’s spatialized inequalities. My work is also future-facing, recovering rival genealogies of knowledge for imagining alternative possibilities for urban change and spatial intervention. I received my bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in architecture from the University of Virginia, and this is my first tenure-track faculty position.

How did you get into this field?

I made a mid-career transition into academia. For the first 15 years of my career, I worked in architectural and landscape design offices. Part of my work involved doing historical research as a basis for design. Through this research, I consistently ran into difficult histories involving segregation, land dispossession and slavery. However, the spaces I worked in were not well-positioned to reckon with these issues. I knew that public space and design education should be levers for social change. That brought me back to school.

What made you want to do your research at UB?

It piqued my interest that the faculty listing was for a spatial justice role — this is what my research centers around. It was clear to me that UB was committed to building capacity in the areas of justice and equity. The university is recognizing community-engaged and community-driven scholarship in a way that many other institutions aren’t doing yet.

It was also an interesting surprise to learn how much people loved Buffalo. I spoke with people who currently or previously lived in the area, and they all said I was going to love it. I took that as a good sign.

What do you believe makes UB stand out in the academic community?

So many people are doing interdisciplinary research at UB, and plenty of internal support and structures are in place for support. The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, Humanities Institute and Gender Institute are a few of the many areas that I’m eager to engage with — both in terms of faculty and community affiliates. There are also many resources right in the School of Architecture and Planning. The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, Community for Global Health Equity, the IDEA Center, the Regional Institute and Rudy Bruner Center for Urban Excellence are all spaces that support research that relates to the historical and contemporary work that I’m doing.

How does it feel to be joining UB faculty during this historic faculty hiring initiative?

Looking back to our new faculty orientation, I had this “holy moly” moment where it was clear that the kind of scholarship I’m doing is also happening across a lot of departments. There is some really amazing stuff coming with this new class of faculty.

During my search, I noticed that other institutions were hiring for similar justice-focused positions. However, those institutions were only hiring one person in each area or department, which often leads to isolation and exhaustion from fighting from the inside. When I was hired at the School of Architecture and Planning, I was part of a cohort of three. There was also an associate dean of inclusive excellence position that already existed, and a wealth of other scholars who are engaged with issues of spatial justice. This felt important because I wouldn’t be alone in this work or in navigating institutional structures. I want to research and teach in community with others.

What has your experience been like working with UB students?

The students are amazing. I only applied to work at public institutions because I am a product of public education myself. The demographic mix of students here is very diverse, and many different conversations can come from that. I’m interested in the history of the campus itself. My previous work looked at how higher education institutions were implicated in spatial injustice, but also areas for institutional change. I’m already learning so much about Buffalo through my students and teaching assistants. Public-serving education resonates with me — and I’m psyched to be in the SUNY system.

How do you like living and working in Buffalo?

I moved here with my husband and our two kids who are 8 and 12 years old. I expected there to be a bigger adjustment period with the climate. We anticipated more darkness and considered how that would affect the family’s mood and emotions. But I quickly realized that along with the snow comes a lot of sunlight. And the winter was really fun for us all.

I’m also a big foraging person. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the trees and plants around the South Campus and my home. I can spot the beech nut and hawthorn trees around campus, and in the spring, I’ve tapped maples in my yard to make maple syrup. It’s been a cool experience to hang out with the plants and learn how they’re different than those in other states.