Brandeis has selected Tressie McMillan Cottom as the 2023 Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize Recipient, in recognition of her celebrated work as a sociologist, author, and New York Times columnist. Cottom is also a professor at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. 

Created by the late Professor Joseph B. Gittler, a sociologist and faculty member at several universities, the Gittler Prize is an annual award that recognizes “outstanding and lasting contributions to racial, ethnic, and/or religious relations.” Cottom’s bodies of work, including “Lower Ed” (2017) and “Thick: And Other Essays” (2019), spans a variety of topics, from the racial hierarchy of beauty standards and dress codes to the concerning rise of for-profit colleges from the perspective of someone who was once a recruiter for two for-profit colleges herself. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)  praise “Lower Ed” for insightfully disclosing the unjust dynamics that enable higher education meritocracy to exacerbate social inequality and for sparking important conversations about the benefits and harms of higher education. In 2019, her collection of essays, “Thick,” received many accolades, including a nomination for the National Book Award, not only for her analysis on personal experiences with body image as a Black woman but also for its powerful storytelling, poetic prose, and innovative form. 

Cottom will be in residence at Brandeis from Oct. 25 to 27, and she will be hosting a public lecture on Oct. 26. On the same day, Brandeis will host a ceremony to officially award Cottom the Gittler Prize, which includes a $25,000 cash prize and a medal.