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Patricia Parker, director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, has received the 2023 Thomas Jefferson Award.
The award, started in 1961 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation, honors a UNC faculty member who has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson through personal influence and performance in teaching, writing and scholarship. The Jeffersonian ideals include democracy, public service and the pursuit of knowledge.
Parker, who’s also the Ruel W. Tyson Distinguished Professor of humanities, was nominated by the 2021 Jefferson award recipient, Lloyd Kramer, a professor in the department of history and former chair of the faculty.
“Professor Parker has argued that effective leaders must embed themselves within democratic communities and social processes rather than work alone, as stand-alone figures who demand that others simply adhere to their own policies and priorities,” Kramer said. “She therefore sees public education and public universities as the foundation for a democratic society.”
Parker teaches in the department of communication, where she served as chair from 2017 to 2021. Her research is community-based and focused on communication for social justice. She asks questions about discourses that influence people to engage in social change. She has written two books and dozens of articles exploring the intersections of race, gender, leadership and power. Her most recent book, Ella Baker’s Catalytic Leadership: A Primer on Community Engagement and Communication for Social Justice, was published in 2020.
Parker was the inaugural director of faculty diversity initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences. She developed the Diversity Liaisons program, which brings together faculty leaders working for equity and inclusivity in their departments. She currently serves as co-chair of the University Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward, which teaches the University’s history with race and provides recommendations on how to reckon with the past.
“Her service to the University and her concept of servant leadership have thus continually enriched both our University leadership and the wider social life of our state,” Kramer said. “She strongly supports the institution’s values and communicative processes of a democratic society.”
Parker said it was an honor to be recognized by her peers. “But this award,” she added, “is even more significant to me because it provides a platform for elevating what I think is among the most sacred and urgent work at UNC Chapel Hill, and that is reckoning with the legacies of systemic racism, and to find pathways toward healing and repair.
“It is through that race and reckoning work that I think this University and our nation can make real the promises of the Jeffersonian ideals of democracy for all and the belief in human rights,” Parker said. “We are the ones that must believe in our democracy. It is up to each generation to take Jefferson’s words to heart and to get us closer to those ideas.”
— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23