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Dr. Clarence Thomas to retire at end of spring semester

Apr 8, 2021

Posted in: News

Thomas, Clarence
Clarence Thomas, Ph.D.

Dr. Clarence Thomas, currently the longest serving professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, recently announced that he will retire at the end of this spring semester. "Dr. Thomas has a long record of accomplishment, especially in the area of diversity and inclusion," said Robertson School Director Dr. Marcus Messner. "While the Robertson School's directors come and go, Dr. Thomas has been a constant here for 30 years and has been a valued and trusted adviser to many directors, including myself." 

Dr. Thomas has been a faculty member in the Robertson School since 1991 and has served as a tenured associate professor in the journalism sequence and as chair of our diversity committee. His colleagues in the School have highly valued him as “a voice of conscience,” as “the cornerstone and initiator of many diversity initiatives,” and as someone who makes sure that “diversity is baked into every course." Dr. Thomas has had a sustained record of contribution to teaching and service of racial and ethnic minorities in journalism and mass communication over the last three decades and his initiatives ensured that the Robertson School and VCU have become more diverse and inclusive places to work and learn.  

"Dr. Thomas has truly been the faculty member who is “Keeping Diversity Alive” in the Robertson School," said Messner. Not only has he served as the chair of the Robertson School’s diversity committee for 11 years. In this role, he has also developed and updated the School’s diversity plan and has put issues of diversity, inclusion and equity front and center in all discussions and initiatives in the School. Dr. Thomas has also been the first person to present in every monthly faculty meeting and has made this regular “Keeping Diversity Alive” presentation a firm agenda item for several years now. Thereby, he has informed his colleagues about the latest diversity initiatives, has encouraged them to participate in various “Zone” trainings, and has motivated other faculty and staff to become active diversity advocates themselves.

According to Messner, Dr. Thomas’s most impactful accomplishment in the Robertson School is his “Diversity in the Media” course in the undergraduate curriculum. He initially developed the course in 2003 as a “Minorities and the Mass Media” class, which was the first media diversity course offered by our School (then the School of Mass Communications). In 2014, Dr. Thomas redesigned the course as a colloquium, through which he brings diversity and inclusion experts from across campus and from the profession to the Robertson School to provide students with a variety of perspectives. The class explores diversity issues in relations to race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, age, religion and disability, among others. Dr. Thomas challenges his students to go out of their comfort zones to explore and understand the value of a diverse and inclusive society.

The course has been so successful and popular with our students that the School will now offer the class as a General Education course to the entire university. Dr. Thomas has received widespread attention for his efforts with this “Diversity in the Media” course at VCU and in the community, and the university honored him with its prestigious Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment (PACME) in 2016. Dr. Thomas is to date only one of two Robertson School faculty members to have received this extraordinary honor. In 2020, he was also honored with the inaugural Trailblazer in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Award of VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences.
Dr. Thomas has also been instrumental in increasing the diversity of the Robertson School by chairing many of our search committees to hire new faculty members. "Thanks to his efforts, our faculty demographics now more closely represent the students we serve," said Messner. "But Dr. Thomas reminds us constantly that we can still do better. He has kept all of us on our feet, and our School is better for it."

"The list of Dr. Thomas’ diversity and inclusion initiatives and their impact on all of us at the Robertson School is long and impressive," Messner said. "What lies behind the long list, however, is a deep commitment for achieving diversity and equity as well as an inclusive environment in journalism education and the media professions." 

Please read more about Dr. Thomas and his work in a website story that the Robertson School published earlier this year. 

Please also read a story on the website of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, where Dr. Thomas was the first African-American doctoral graduate in 1990.