University of Texas at AustinDivision of Diversity and Community Engagement

The Social Justice Institute brings together faculty, students, staff and community partners in collaboration around specific social-justice oriented projects and dialogues. Such projects are carried out through several modes: community education, advocacy, community-based activist research, and scholar activist gatherings. 

Activist-Scholar of the Month

A feature in which we interview a member of the Social Justice Directory each month. Read on for more about Kevin Thomas — expert on identity & communication, fan of In-N-Out Burger. See last month’s Activist-Scholar here

ArtsyMe

What do you do at UT?

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Advertising & Public Relations. I am also an affiliate of the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, and the African and African Diaspora Studies Department.

My research focuses on deconstructing how identity markers (i.e. race, gender, class, and sexuality) are represented in marketing communication and experienced in the marketplace.

I teach courses, such as Advertising as Social Communication and Making Sense of the World through Advertising, that examine the social, cultural, and political implications of marketing communication, particularly as they pertain to marginalized/oppressed populations.

Describe any current research projects.

I’m currently developing a project with local community organizations to critically examine how young black men in the U.S. (re)create themselves through participation in consumer culture. This study will be conducted in conjunction with three young consumers who share the historical stigmatization of being black males.

Essentially, this study will examine how young black men create identities while living beyond the borders of dominant ideations of black manhood.

Are you involved in any community organizations in Austin?

I am the co-founder of two community-based organizations – Black Media Council (BMC) and Food for Black Thought (FFBT). BMC began in 2008 as a student-led organization focused on supporting black students at UT-Austin with an interest in media studies. BMC has since grown beyond the borders of UT-Austin and now seeks to cultivate and promote media literacy through educational workshops and youth mentorship. FFBT began as a 2-day community + action symposium in fall 2012, broadly focused on black experiences with food in Austin and nationwide. Today FFBT is a thriving community-based organization with the mission to sustain and maintain black access to food resources, knowledge, and policy making in Austin and beyond.

Favorite news source:

The Melissa Harris-Perry Show (#nerdland).

What is the last book you’ve read?

I just learned all about myself by reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Favorite restaurant in Austin:

I have two, Zocalo and Royal India. However, as a Southern California native now that In-N-Out Burger has made its way to Austin, I may be amending my list soon.

One activist you look up to:

I’m very much inspired by M. Jacqui Alexander. Her book, Pedagogies of Crossing transformed they way I think about activism and scholarship. I particularly appreciate the way in which she is able to honor the sacred as an activist-scholar.

M. Jacqui Alexander’s scholarship has addressed the centrality of (hetero)sexuality to the project of nation building; the pedagogical importance of teaching for justice; the need for a critical interdisciplinarity; and the sacred dimensions of women’s experience. She is currently on faculty at the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.

What is the most pressing issue our social justice movements face right now?

I strongly believe that those within the movement need to make space for self care/healing. I’ve seen so many folks in the movement burn themselves out by neglecting to take care of their physical, emotional, and spiritual self. It’s exciting to see support networks for social justice workers pop up in Austin, such as the Winter Mini-Wellness Fair, currently being developed by Toi Scott and other local area healers.