Faculty Spotlight

Meet Your Professor: Dawna Marie Thomas

Where did you go to college, and what did you study?

I majored in economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston for my undergraduate degree and completed my master's at UMass Boston’s McCormack Institute in Public Policy. For my doctorate, I went to Northeastern University to pursue an interdisciplinary program in law, policy, and society, which I found fascinating because I wanted to combine my work with public policy and economics. I had many people tell me that if you're going to get a PhD, get it in a traditional department so you can get hired at an academic institution, but I wanted to be creative, so that's what I did.

Tell us about your roles at Simmons.

When I joined Simmons, I was jointly appointed in Africana studies and women’s and gender studies until 2017. Then, I joined the Department of Sociology, so now I’m jointly appointed in sociology and women and gender studies, and I’m still affiliated with Africana studies. Currently, I’m the chair of the Sociology department, we rotate the chair position.

Tell us about the new Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Cultural Studies.

The Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Cultural Studies houses Africana studies, Asian studies, migration studies, women’s and gender studies, the graduate department of gender and cultural studies, which was created during the University redesign.

Currently, Sarah Leonard is the chair, and she’s working on the mission and vision statements, among many other things. I'm looking forward to working with the department and the program directors envisioning events for next year.

As we grow, long term plans involve reviewing our curriculum, keeping it current, which is always part of every department and program. We have to see how we all mesh and come together — How do we relate to each other? What do we think about each other? So, hopefully, when I become chair, we will find how all of these programs should come together and some of the issues we want to tackle.

Do you have a favorite course you teach?

A lot of my courses are cross-listed between Africana studies, sociology, and women’s and gender studies. There's not one favorite — there are a few favorites.

At the top is “Race, Gender, and Health.” It examines women's health and disparities, but it blends all of my disciplines to look at racial, ethnic, and gender disparities. When students come out of that course, I want them to have a sense of cultural humility and understand what that is. A lot of the students who take this course will be nurses or a provider in the healthcare system, so my goal is for them to understand cultural competency and cultural humility.

I also teach “Intimate Family Violence: A Multicultural Perspective.” It's a popular course that I ended up teaching by accident when I was a doctoral student. When I came to Simmons, it followed me. It's dark in some ways, but by the time it ends, we're hopeful — we see change. We do a lot of work in the course, and the students develop intervention prevention plans as their final paper. They find a population and write about theory — it's how we blend theory and application — and think about some action steps and a plan around eradicating family violence. Most students who take this course end up working in the field, and that makes me proud.

One of my favorite Africana studies courses to teach is “Black Women, Gender and Feminisms.” It covers all aspects of Black women from theory, activism, to family life. As a Cape Verdean/Black woman myself, it's great to talk about our people, what has happened to us historically, how we have always been leaders, but unnoticed, and dispel the many myths surrounding Black women.

bell hooks, one of my favorite authors, discusses teaching from a place of love, and that's where I try to teach from.

What's your favorite thing about Simmons?

One of my favorite things about Simmons is that we can sit down and have conversations beyond the academic walls about life and society. We have in-depth discussions, and the students become critical thinkers about the world. They're our future leaders, and we want them to be deep thinkers.

I think Simmons is special because it's a place where women get to talk about being women and about gender. In all of my classes, we talk about race, we talk about ethnicity, we talk about culture. And I've been able to talk about experiences of racism. It's a place where we can dig deep into these issues, and that doesn't happen everywhere, so I feel like that's a great privilege to have.

Tell us about your research.

My research is primarily dedicated to my Cape Verdean and African American cultural roots. Much of my work shows that the Cape Verdean community continues to be socially invisible, misrepresented, and misunderstood by mainstream society. My latest study, The Cape Verdean Women’s Project, included four generations of Cape Verdean women throughout New England, where I explored their experiences with family life, marriage, domestic violence, healthcare and disability, and concepts of womanhood.

I also published an edited book Women’s Health: Readings on Social, Economic, and Political Issues, which includes a collection of articles that provide a historical context about women, their environment, health needs, culture, and introduces innovative approaches around women’s healthcare that is culturally relevant.

If we visited your home office, what would we see?

I collect a lot of knick-knacks. I like antiques. I have my very first phone, and it's a donut phone. I have memorabilia from every play I've been to that hangs up on my wall. I like collecting buttons, and I have a bunch of them from when JFK ran for office, all kinds of buttons from political things, political races, or buttons that have some sort of saying on them. And the Sociology Department makes buttons, so I have a lot of Simmons-related buttons.

What books do you read for fun?

I haven't read any books for pleasure recently, but I like reading murder mysteries. I read the whole alphabet murder series many years ago. I also like espionage kinds of things. I like a good whodunit.

Is there a TV show you're currently binging?

I'm watching the game show The Hustler, also Big Sky. I'm also an old soap opera fan. I started watching General Hospital when I came home from school when I was a little girl. My mom would watch soap operas, and then my friends and I would watch them with her.

The Great British Baking Show is my favorite. When I was a kid, I used to read cookbooks, so I like cooking shows.

Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for students this semester?

First and foremost, we all need to be patient with ourselves. We all just need to take time. We're going to get through this. bell hooks, one of my favorite authors, discusses teaching from a place of love, and that's where I try to teach from. I also want my students to approach their learning from a place of love. Do whatever you need to do to be safe — don't worry if Zoom or other technology doesn't work. I don't want students to have anxiety about that.

Being a student is a full-time job. You may be in the classroom for a couple of hours a week, but you have 4-5 hours of material to prepare for that class. You have to pay attention to your full-time job, and I think Simmons has been very supportive as we've gone to the online world.

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