Dr. Tina M. Harris credits her dad’s career in the Navy for her interest in ethnic and cultural diversity. As the daughter of a military family, she spent her childhood in Detroit, Florida and Georgia, and she even spent part of her early childhood in Spain.
“Spanish was actually my first language,” Harris said. “It was a foundation for my thought about the importance of people being bilingual or multilingual, and it opened me up about different cultures at a very young age.”
Her interest in different cultures and diversity is what led Harris to the Manship School. In the spring of 2019, Harris was named the Douglas L. Manship Sr.-Dori J. Maynard Chair in Race, Media and Cultural Literacy at the Manship School – the first and only position of its type in the nation. As chair, Harris will research and teach on issues of diversity, access and social justice in media.
Harris became interested in the intersection of culture and representation through her own personal experiences growing up. Her father worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when the family moved back to the United States, so Harris was always aware of racial inequalities in her community. During high school, Harris noticed the racial demographics of her neighborhood changing as her white neighbors moved to the suburbs and families of color moved in. That change prompted Harris to pay more attention to race relations in her own life.
Harris majored in Speech Communication at the University of Georgia, where she began to focus on the racial makeup of the communication studies field itself.
“I noticed that there were rarely any people of color in the communication theory research,” Harris said. “I thought it was interesting that I rarely saw myself represented in my field. When it came time for my thesis, I thought it was important to see myself reflected in research.”
For her master’s thesis, Harris studied the racial makeup of the University of Georgia (UGA) law school and the subsequent racial tensions that were uncovered by her research. As a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, Harris focused her research on opinions about interracial dating and romantic relationships.
Harris returned to UGA in 1998 to teach business and professional communication, communication theory and interracial communication. She is also the co-author of the textbook “Interracial Communication: Theory into Practice.” Harris says she has taught these classes, namely interracial communication, at UGA for 21 years because they are integral to understanding communication today, even if some students can occasionally resist her message.
“I am committed to teaching these classes because they are so important,” Harris said. “I’ve learned how to navigate being the only black female in my department who is publishing on race and how to deal with students who are not open to my class, and I am still committed to doing this work no matter what.”
Harris was originally drawn to the Manship School after observing the sense of community and collegiality among the faculty members—something that stood out during her campus visit. She had also heard of the Manship School’s reputation for being a leading journalism school in the nation and was excited that people within the school were so interested in her work. She joined the faculty during the summer of 2019 and was recognized with the National Communication Association’s 2019 Robert J. Kibler Memorial Award soon after. The award recognizes dedication to excellence, commitment to the profession, concern for others, vision of what could be, acceptance of diversity and forthrightness.
“This award is a testament to the distinction that Dr. Harris is known for, not just in the region, but around the world, as a scholar, mentor and educator,” said Martin Johnson, dean of LSU’s Manship School. “We are thrilled to celebrate with her this well-deserved recognition as we proudly welcome her to our faculty.”
At the Manship School, Harris will teach an undergraduate course on media and multiculturalism and a graduate class on race, gender and political communication. As the Manship-Maynard Chair, she will conduct research on the intersection of race, media and culture.
“I’m looking forward to having an outlet to work on my passion and to engage with students,” Harris said. “The Manship School engages the community as well as the scholarly world, and I’m excited to have a structure in place so I can make a difference in students’ lives and the lives of the Baton Rouge community.”
Written by alumna Beth Carter