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Patricia Parker to become first Black woman director at IAH

Patricia Parker is Chair of the Department of Communication at UNC. Photo courtesy of Kristen Chavez, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Department of Communication Chairperson Patricia Parker will enter her new role as director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities on July 1. 

Parker will be the first Black woman to direct the IAH. Since its founding in 1987, the IAH has only been directed by white men.

From 2012 to 2015, Parker was the inaugural director of faculty diversity initiatives for the College of Arts and Sciences and spearheaded the development of its diversity liaison program. Currently, she also serves as co-chairperson for the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward.

Parker's vision 

Parker's vision for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities is for it to be a "sure place," where faculty can anchor themselves and support one another in their work.

"For me, that sure place represents a place to have tough conversations, a place to convene and for the arts and humanities to flourish and for faculty to flourish," Parker said. 

Parker's goals for the IAH are centered around developing collaborations, forming strategic partnerships and imagining the future together.

The IAH is a place for faculty to come together and support one another in their creative efforts and research, with the goal of maintaining a world-class faculty, Parker said. The IAH's website states at the heart of its mission is "the affirmation of the crucial value of the arts and humanities to the life of the University and the world."

Parker said she believes the arts and humanities have an important place in the world, especially in light of racial inequity and other injustices that the nation is currently facing. She said it is a "distinct honor" for her to lead the IAH at this point in history. 

"I think more than ever, this moment has clarified the need for the arts and humanities to think about who we are as human beings and how we engage with each other," she said. 

In her new role, Parker said she wants to meld her position as co-chairperson of the Commission on History, Diversity and a Way Forward with her position as director of the IAH — noting that issues of race have been at the forefront of recent discussions at the University.

Faculty support

Lloyd Kramer, a history professor and a friend of Parker, said Parker's knowledge of the history of institutional racism at UNC will be invaluable for her as director of the IAH.

"I think this is also a perspective and a kind of public engagement that will be very valuable for her as a leader at the IAH," he said. 

As the first Black woman to direct the IAH, Parker said she wants to bring her perspective into the role, especially with conversations surrounding gender and race. 

"Part of what I bring is an understanding of complexity," Parker said. "Part of that upbringing of growing up in the South, and then living all over the world and engaging in the world ... it forced me to see humanity and all of its complexity."

She grew up as the youngest of 13 to two tenant farmers in rural Arkansas who managed to become landowners and educated their children. Parker eventually got her master's degree and doctorate. 

Professor of communications and longtime friend of Parker, Renée Alexander Craft, said Parker would not only continue but also amplify the IAH’s commitment to excellence and rigor. 

"I think she'll help the campus community thrive," Alexander Craft said. "So I'm just excited to see the work that she does there."

Parker said she is looking forward to the ways that she can serve the UNC community. 

"I just see it as a distinct honor for me to lead the IAH at this time at this critical time in our nation's history," said Parker. "And I don't take that responsibility lightly."

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