Professor Clarence Thomas of Robertson School to Retire at End of Semester


By Maria-Paula

The longest-serving professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and the foremost Black employee to acquire residency in the field of mass communication at Virginia Commonwealth University, Clarence Thomas Ph.D., will retire towards the end of the spring 2021 semester.

A local of Norfolk, Thomas started as a broadcaster at WTAR-TV (presently WTKR-TV) and WHOV-FM.

He established and filled in as the primary supervisor of Winston-Salem State University’s public radio broadcast WSNC-FM in 1983, an NPR associate and one of the biggest jazz stations in North Carolina.

Before joining VCU, Thomas was the facilitator of the mass interchanges scholastic program at Winston-Salem State University where he created and encouraged the college’s first mass communication courses. He also built up and carried out a minor in mass correspondences, which is presently a significant and a division.

After teaching the mass communication academic program at Winston- Salem State University for 12 years, Thomas joined VCU’s staff in 1991.

He created and encouraged the college’s first mass interchanges courses, built up a minor in mass communication, and carried out a significant in mass correspondences, which is presently a significant and a division. Being an associate professor of mass communication in the Robertson School’s journalism organization, he has for the last 11 years filled in as head of the school’s diversity board.

Having taught mass communication students, Thomas said what’s outstanding about his career at VCU is the means by which “perfectly different” the student populace has become, under his long-lasting and noticeable support for diversity, equity, and inclusion at VCU.

“Dr. Thomas has a long record of accomplishment, especially in the area of diversity and inclusion,” said Marcus Messner, Ph.D., director of the Robertson School, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences. “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.”

As chair of the variety committee, Thomas created and refreshed the Robertson School’s variety plan. He has guaranteed that issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity are key to all conversations and drives in the school.

“Back before the pandemic, when you could stroll around the grounds, we just had a lovely variety of individuals from all over, a wide range of individuals, and that was only something wondrous to see,” Thomas said. “I remember when I first came to VCU in 1991, the population was relatively small and I rarely ran into African American students at all,” he said. “There were very few students of color in my class. I might get one, I might get none. When I first set up shop in my office, an African American student walked past my door, and then they backed up and looked in the office. And then they walked past my door again and they backed up again. Finally, they said, ‘Do you work here?!’ I said, ‘Yep, I work here!’ I thought that was so funny.”

Notwithstanding, not all things were pleasurable during that time. He recollects when somebody hung a blackface personification on his office entryway. He got trick calls at home. He additionally recollects that the majority of the students would disregard him as a “doctor” or even “professor.” He actually tracks down that destructive today.

Thomas has for some time been a pioneer. Perhaps the proudest achievement, he said, was being the principal African American to acquire a doctorate in his field from the University of Florida.

“Some of these things are kind of melancholy. I’ve done a lot of things where I was the first Black, which is a good thing. But then it’s also a sad thing that I would be the first Black because you would have hoped that other Blacks would have been able to have that opportunity earlier.” Said Thomas

Among Thomas’s commitments, Messner said, is his “Diversity in the Media” course in the school’s undergraduate educational plan developed in 2003. The “Minorities and the Mass Media” class, which was the first media variety course in VCU was then called the School of Mass Communications. The course investigates a variety of issues comparable to race, nationality, financial status, sexual orientation, age, religion, and inability, among others, and is currently being offered as an overall schooling course to the whole university.

“The list of Dr. Thomas’ diversity and inclusion initiatives and their impact on all of us at the Robertson School is long and impressive,” Dr. 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.”

“I generally prefer to say, when I talk about VCU, that VCU is a family organization, he echoed. At the point when he joined the institution, it was only one section in his family’s connections to the college.

His mother, Floretta Virginia Sears, a 1940’s alumni of the Medical College of Virginias St. Phillips school of Nursing was a registered nurse trained at VCU. She also worked in radio. In the mid-’90s, Thomas had the chance to take his mom back to VCU to direct a board conversation about the history of Black radio in Central Virginia and Richmond. His wife, Shirley Thomas, also worked at VCU Libraries for a long period of 30 years where she was the first Black head of department. Furthermore, his youngest daughter who is a therapist also graduated from VCU.

In his time educating at VCU, Thomas looked to pass on to his reporting, promoting, and advertising to his students the significance of morals, history, and variety.

He needed his understudies to leave his class with solid confidence in morals while having an agreement that law and morals are two separate things.

“Something can be legal, but can be completely unethical,” he said giving an example of slavery. Slavery was legal, but it was surely unethical. And so as communicators, they should go out and look for things like that, and try to pursue truth and present that information to the public.”

On history, he needed them to comprehend the significance of what preceded and how it advises and impacts media today.

“For example, now, all of our students are dealing with things like the George Floyd incident and the aftermath of that,” he said. “But in essence, I was teaching about things like that way before. Before there was George Floyd, we had Rodney King and Rodney King really was the first time where we’re seeing that third eye of the camera stepping in and making a difference. And so that’s history repeating itself.”

What’s more, he tried to give his students an enthusiasm for diversity in media, its significance, yet additionally the historical backdrop of how far it has come.

“I remember teaching in my History of Advertising class that when I would have been a little boy in the fifties and sixties, you would not have seen a normal African American in an ad. At most, you might have seen Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben or some other subservient role. You didn’t see African Americans as normal citizens,” he said. “Nowadays, when I teach about something like that, the students pretty much shake their head. They don’t really understand because advertising has done a great job at rectifying that. Most of the commercials on TV nowadays have some type of person of color. You see Black families, you see mixed-race families, and you see a variety of people. You see an abundance of diversity in advertising. So advertisers have done a pretty good job of doing that, but I still try to teach the students about the way it was done in the past. So they’d realize that these changes did not just happen on their own. It took pressure.”

He also looked to achieve change at VCU as a supporter for variety on the personnel. At the point when asked what counsel he could provide for others chasing diversity, equity and inclusion, Thomas said it would be to “walk the walk.”

“A lot of times people give lip service to diversity. I call that talking the talk. They want to sound like they’re interested in diversity and they want to have all these commissions and positions and committees and all these things, and then nothing happens,” he said. “So my point is: When it comes to diversity, inclusion, and equity, don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Don’t just hire a specialist, but make sure that specialist gets something done. Make sure an institution hires people who are diverse and then works hard to retain them.”

Because of Thomas’s endeavors, the University’s personnel socioeconomics now, more intently address the students they serve. Dr. Thomas continually reminds them that they can in any case improve by keeping them all on their toes, hence bettering the institution. This earned him the 2020 Trailblazer in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Award of the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU and a recipient of a VCU Presidential Award for Multicultural Enrichment (PACME) grant in 2016 for extraordinary work in the assistance of variety at VCU.

On his retirement, Thomas said he intends to travel when it’s more secure, appreciate comedy, music, high-end food, and compose on the lower side three movies. Inquired as to whether he could share any clues about the movies, he said: “well, I can’t talk about them right now, but I hope everyone will enjoy them.”


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