Tressie McMillan Cottom selected as winner of 2023 Gittler Prize

Tressie McMillan CottomPhoto/courtesy

Tressie McMillan Cottom

Celebrated cultural critic, sociologist, and author Tressie McMillan Cottom has been selected as the 2023 winner of the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize by Brandeis University.

"Through her work as a leading academic, sociologist, and writer, Tressie McMillan Cottom brings critical perspective and analysis to some of the greatest social challenges we face today," said Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz. "I look forward to welcoming her to campus to engage with our community."

McMillan Cottom's work touches on a broad range of cultural issues, from the racial hierarchy of beauty standards and the class codes of dressing for work, to the predation of for-profit colleges and the historical impact of racial capitalism on plural democracy.

Her first book, "Lower Ed," published in 2017, focused on the impact of for-profit colleges in the United States. From 2019 to 2021, she co-hosted with Roxanne Gay the Black feminist podcast "Hear to Slay."  Her 2019 collection of essays, "Thick," was a National Book Award finalist that reimagines the modern essay form.

McMillan Cottom was nominated for the Gittler by associate professor of sociology Sarah Mayorga, who cited “Thick” as a key reason for the nomination.

“‘Thick’ is the core text for my Introduction to Sociology course here at Brandeis, and it is a hit every time. Students love Dr. McMillan Cottom’s unique voice and beautiful prose. They appreciate how she weaves sociological insight with personal history. She centers the expertise and experience of Black women to show that we better understand the world when we take their perspectives seriously,” Mayorga said. “From my instructor's point of view, her work is a godsend–it weaves in theory and data using accessible language that helps students from diverse backgrounds engage in deep conversations about social problems.”

McMillan Cottom is a professor with the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill and a columnist for the New York Times. In 2020, she was selected as a MacArthur “genius” Fellow.

The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize was created in 2007 by the late Professor Joseph B. Gittler to recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations.

The annual award includes a $25,000 prize and a medal. Past winners of the Gittler Prize include Carol Anderson, Howard C. Stevenson, John Paul Lederach, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Martha Minow, and Gustavo Gutiérrez. The prize is administered by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President and Office of the Provost of Brandeis University. 

McMillan Cottom will be in residence at Brandeis Oct. 25-27 to engage in a variety of activities and meetings with the campus community. Her residency will also include a formal award ceremony and keynote lecture, which is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Categories: Alumni, Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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