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UNC-CH Professor Awarded MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship

Tressie McMillan Cottom

We’re late to the party, but just in case you are too:

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science and Senior Faculty Researcher at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life has received a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship for “shaping discourse on highly topical issues at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology for broad audiences.”

The MacArthur Foundation awards annual fellowships in the amount of $625,000 paid out over five years to people “who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future.” Although the 2020 recipients include an econometrician, an evolutionary geneticist, and an environmental health advocate, 9 of the 21 recipients are writers, representing speculative fiction, anthropology, history, playwriting, and more.

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a sociologist, writer, and public scholar 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 her book-length study of for-profit colleges, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (2017), McMillan Cottom explores the rapid growth of these institutions in the context of rising inequality in the United States. McMillan Cottom’s most recent book, THICK: and Other Essays (2019), is a collection of essays that offer a powerful treatise on the perilous cultural space occupied by Black women in America. McMillan Cottom also writes shorter-form pieces for more mainstream media outlets addressing topics ranging from access to higher education to why people with low income buy luxury goods, and she is known as an intellectual leader on Black Twitter. In addition, she has co-launched a Black feminist podcast, Hear to Slay, which provides a forum for presenting and discussing intersectional perspectives on modern culture.

For the complete list of 2020 MacArthur Fellows, click here.

Why does the foundation give so much money each year?

MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.

The MacArthur Fellows Program, which awards unrestricted grants to exceptionally creative individuals, does not accept applications or public nominations. They do, sometimes, award grants.

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