Tressie McMillan Cottom

Associate Professor, UNC School of Information and Library Science; Senior Faculty Researcher, Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life
Tressie McMillan Cottom
Manning Hall


Faculty Expertise:

Technology, higher education, class, race, and gender

PhD (Sociology), Emory University
BA (English and Political Science), North Carolina Central University

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom is an award-winning author, professor, and sociologist, whose work has earned national and international recognition for the urgency and depth of its incisive critical analysis of technology, higher education, class, race, and gender. Her most recent accolades include a 2020 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, informally known as the “genius grant.”

She is an associate professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), a senior faculty researcher with the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a faculty affiliate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Before joining the faculty at Carolina, she was an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

McMillan Cottom earned her doctorate from Emory University’s Laney Graduate School in sociology in 2015. 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. In 2020, she launched her own online newsletter, essaying.

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.

Awards and Recognition

  • MacArthur Foundation Fellow (2020)
  • Public Understanding of Sociology Award, American Sociological Association (2020)
  • National Book Award, Non-fiction Finalist for Thick: And Other Essays (2019)
  • Brooklyn Public Library Literary Award, Non-fiction Winner for Thick: And Other Essays (2019)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University, Outstanding Early Career Faculty Award (2018)
  • Feminist Activist Scholar Award, Sociologists for Women in Society (2017)
  • PhD Research Intern, Microsoft Social Sciences Research Labs, Cambridge, Mass. (2014)

McMillan Cottom, Tressie. 2019. THICK: And Other Essays. New York: The New Press.

McMillan Cottom, Tressie. 2016. Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profits. New York: The New Press.

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