Dear Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Friends,
It’s Black History Month, and so what better time than now to have presented our Senior Researcher of the Year from 2021 with Clemson’s highest recognition for a faculty member: the Class of ’39 award.
Established in 1989, the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence is presented annually to one faculty member for contributions over a five-year period which have been judged by his or her peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the Clemson community and beyond.
This year’s award went to none other than our very own Rhondda Robinson Thomas, Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature, in the Department of English. Thomas is perhaps best known for her Call My Name project, which has culminated in both her powerful book, Call My Name: Documenting the Black Experience in an American University as well as a living, public history experience on Clemson’s campus.
I had the privilege to walk the Call My Name campus tour last week, first just with Rhondda and a couple of others, and then last Sunday as a volunteer host guiding a group of visitors.
At each of the eight stations, there was a student volunteer, explaining the history, written and unwritten, of those places, and the role played by African Americans—enslaved, freed, convict laborers and, last but not least, black students, who have fought for so many decades for their rightful place at Clemson. We visited Old Main, the Trustee House, Fort Hill Plantation House, Memorial Stadium, Woodland Cemetery, the Historic Marker at the Lee Complex (site of slave quarters and the stockade), Hardin Hall and Sikes Hall. At each place, we heard not only about history, but also the students’ personal reflections about the experience of being Black, and being Black on campus. It was an act of pure courage on their part to speak their truth, and I was so moved.
The day after, I was walking on campus, rushing from one meeting to another, as usual. But it was not as usual. Echoing in my ears as I walked past Hardin on my way to Lee, I heard the voices of those students sharing their thoughts and feelings, and I remembered some of the history about those stones that provide the foundations of the buildings we take for granted.
Walking on campus will never be the same for me.
Nicholas Vazsonyi, Dean
College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities
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