Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom
Notre Dame’s Gender Studies Program welcomes Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom—sociologist, cultural critic, and finalist for the 2019 National Book Award—to the University of Notre Dame on March 27, 2020 as a Kathleen Cannon O.P. Distinguished Lecturer. An Associate Professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty affiliate at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Dr. Cottom is one of the U.S.'s most incisive critics of higher education, social media, class, race, and gender.
Dr. Cottom's lecture will serve as the keynote address for Notre Dame’s fourth Gender Studies Undergraduate Research Conference. Her public talk at 5pm on Friday, March 27, 2020 will be followed by a book signing (hosted by the Brain Lair bookstore) and reception, all at the Morris Inn Ballroom.
Dr. Cottom received her doctorate from Emory University with a dissertation that drew from her research in the for-profit education industry. Her subsequent book, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, is a crucial exposé of these institutions: how they draw students in through the belief that education will dispel social inequalities, how they use simple payment plans to drown students in debt that cannot be paid off with the credentials they offer, how they shift risk from structures to individuals in the neoliberal labor market. Using her own experience working in for-profit college admissions as well as deep ethnographic research, quantitative analysis, and compelling story-telling, McMillan Cottom has both diagnosed the U.S. economy and educational systems, and proposed new kinds of reforms.
Cottom also analyzes social media and digital culture within the field of digital sociologies. She is co- editor, with Jessie Daniels and Karen Gregory, of Digital Sociologies, which places the analysis of inequality at the center of the study of digital culture. This work, which connects digital media technologies to more traditional areas of sociological research, reaches into pop culture as readily as into digital labor.
Her most recent book, Thick, is an award-winning collection of first-person essays on Black womanhood, body image, sexual abuse, and the loss of a child. Her approach combines the personal or subjective with the empirical and theoretical, to offer a "thick" ethnographic description that also reveals the structural aspects of race, class, sex, and gender in the U.S. (where Black women make up only two percent of faculty in higher education). Thick recently won the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Tressie McMillan Cottom is also a regular face and voice in U.S. media culture. She has appeared on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Fresh Air, and MSNBC, and written for The New York Times and The Atlantic. She currently hosts the podcast Hear to Slay with Roxane Gay, which offers their takes on celebrity, culture, politics, art, love, life, and more.