Historic faculty hiring: Meet Kyla Tompkins


Published January 24, 2024

Kyla Tompkins.

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 — Kyla Tompkins, professor and chair of the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, College of Arts and Sciences — 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?

Feminist studies is the place where it’s possible to discuss gender, race, sexuality, class, disabilities and other topics that impact us every day and are also at the level of local and global political patterns. In this field, you get the tools to understand and analyze how the world works at different scales, and the methodology can be applied to almost every research area.

I study the history of race in the U.S. with a specific focus on cultures of food and eating, art, aesthetics and sexuality. I look at how the histories of diet, nutrition and science have contributed to the history of racial difference. Most recently I have turned toward more public-facing writing. A recent essay published in the Los Angeles Review of Books won a James Beard award. My next book looks at how taste was shaped by the history of racial modernity.

What made you want to grow your research at UB?

A huge personal goal of mine was to experience my career with a public university. I’m a first-generation college student, and UB’s mission to serve students like me fundamentally aligns with my values. I really believe in the work being done at UB — and I want to serve those same educational goals in my career.

I was familiar with UB because I grew up in Toronto, but also because I have colleagues here that I know from my own field, and even all the way back to undergraduate and graduate school. UB has made some amazing recent hires, in addition to existing talented faculty, which made me want to work here. We are really booming!

What are you most looking forward to as department chair?

UB has one of the first women’s studies programs in the country and I’m excited to be a part of that history. As chair, I want to support everyone in the department in flourishing, while also helping to shape the department’s future. We’re already having conversations about what we want this department to look like 10-15 years from now. Global Gender and Sexuality Studies should and will be competitive with the top gender studies departments in the country.

Gender and women’s studies departments have long been an important site for diverse groups of students to have conversations about making a more just world. But our departments, particularly when run with an eye to intersectional feminist work, are drivers of inclusive excellence in the university and nationally. That is the gift we give to universities, although it is often under-valued. I look forward to partnering with colleagues in the fields of Indigenous studies, Africana and American studies, Latina/Latino studies and other disciplines to continue to shape and protect these important fields.

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

I’m so proud to be working with the amazing faculty in my department — they’re incredibly research-forward, while also being phenomenal teachers who are dedicated to furthering feminist studies.

There are also a lot of research opportunities at the university. I’ve received tremendous support in my meetings with Sambandamurthy Ganapathy, our associate dean for research administration. I love that you can say, ‘Hey, I have an idea and want to find funding,’ and there’s a whole office of people to say, ‘Yes, here’s how you can do that.’ When you go to administration with a big idea, there’s a high chance they’ll support you.

How does it feel to be working at UB during this period of historic faculty hiring?

I’m really happy to be here. I’m so excited by the new colleagues who joined with me and those who have been working here. There’s incredible talent everywhere you look. I’m already so impressed by these students — they have good instincts, and I’m eager to be around the next generation as they figure out how to make the world more just.

Also, President Tripathi and Provost Weber’s mission to make sure the world knows how excellent UB already is — not just its potential — really inspires me. It’s a great opportunity to have gotten here at this moment of explosive growth.

How do you like living in Buffalo so far?

I’ve spent my life living in major cities — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, New York — but I love how much Buffalonians love Buffalo. It’s so sweet and fantastic. I’ve been inspired by the fierce admiration people have for this little city and how much its residents value community activism. Buffalo is a secretly awesome place to live and work, and I’m so lucky to be here.

One of the things I appreciate is being so close to the American/Canadian border — you can literally see the Peace Bridge from my apartment. There’s a fine line between who is American and Canadian. I love that very tight cultural exchange between Canada and the U.S.

Plus, as a Torontonian who grew up attaching tin foil to my radio antennas to get WBLK because we didn’t have an R&B station, it’s great to have easy access to that station now.