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Tressie McMillan Cottom named 2020 MacArthur Fellow


Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), has been named a fellow in the MacArthur Foundation’s Class of 2020.

MacArthur Fellows are selected for their “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits,” and receive a $625,000 award, often referred to as the “Genius Grant,” distributed over five years.

Tressie McMillan Cottom
Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD

The foundation’s announcement described McMillan Cottom’s work as “shaping discourse on pressing issues at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology. In work across multiple platforms, ranging from academic scholarship to essays and social media engagement, McMillan Cottom combines analytical insights and personal experiences in a frank, accessible style of communication that resonates with broad audiences within and outside of academia.”

In addition to her appointment with SILS, McMillan Cottom is a senior faculty researcher at Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) and a faculty affiliate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

McMillan Cottom holds a BA from North Carolina Central University and a PhD from Emory University. Her dissertation research formed the foundation for her first book Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (The New Press 2016).

With hundreds of thousands of readers amassed over years of writing and publishing, McMillan Cottom’s columns have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Dissent Magazine.

As a researcher and public intellectual, she has appeared on Amanpour & Co., MSNBC, The Daily Show, and National Public Radio, and she testified before U.S. Senate Subcommittees on student loan debt. She is also an influential voice on Twitter and co-host of Hear to Slay, a Black feminist podcast with writer Roxane Gay.

McMillan Cottom’s most recent book, THICK: and Other Essays (The New Press 2019), is a critically acclaimed Amazon best-seller that situates Black women’s intellectual tradition at its center. THICK won the Brooklyn Public Library’s 2019 Literary Prize and was shortlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction.