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Friday April 23rd

New UNC Department of Communication heads change status quo

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Dr. Patricia Parker is working in an environment that she spent years researching and fostering. 

“How does a black woman get to be the leader of a fairly large department on campus?” Parker asked. “Perhaps a question that has not been asked that should be asked is, ‘What are the conditions of white men being in leadership positions in predominately white institutions?’”

In early August, Parker and Dr. Sarah Dempsey were appointed as the new chair and assistant chair of the department of communication, respectively. 

Parker, who joined the UNC communication faculty in 1998, spent her time at UNC studying the intersections of multiple identities, which was the topic her 2005 publication “Race, Gender, and Leadership.” 

She said her studies on organizing structures led her to focus on what gave people of differing identities the power to have a voice. Parker said she believes her research allows her to think critically of her position as the head of the department of communication — and specifically as an African-American female.

Dempsey, who began at UNC as an associate professor in 2005, grounded her experience as a leader in service, while serving on the department of communication’s culture committee. With a background in research in organizational communication, Dempsey said she is focused on optimizing the organizational structure of the department. 

“We have a really dynamic department that brings together a lot of folks across interdisciplinary areas that rely on this idea that communication is this central, defining act of contemporary life,” Dempsey said.

In December 2011 the department adopted the “Principles of Community,” a set of guidelines designed to bring a safe, fair and nurturing community-centered environment, among many other things. 

“We created these principles on how we engage each other in terms of being human and engaging and creating the kind of environment and climate and culture that we want to live in," Parker said. 

Anna Thornton, a senior communication and political science double major, believes that the environment of community created in her communication major has impacted her experience within various courses in the department. 

“I’ve had multiple courses within the communications department that are very social justice-oriented and focusing on social variations,” she said. “In those courses, professors or TAs have been both male and female, but I can’t personally say that I believe that the leadership is what caused this — but I believe it is the culture of the major itself.”

Although she said she doesn’t believe the change in leadership is the sole cause of the positive environment, Thornton said she feels positively about having two female leaders.

“I think having female leaders in this role is extremely helpful and will definitely guide the major and the different curricula in a proper way of teaching these ideas,” she said.

Parker acknowledges that the culture of the department of communication is something that was established years ago, but said she hopes to continue to foster this type of community going into her leadership position.

“We’re trying to perfect a process in which we can truly live those principles of community.”

“We’re not perfect — we’re perfecting,” she said.

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