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March 15, 2006
Contact: Robert “Robin” C. Rowland, professor and chair of communicaton studies, (785) 864-9868.

New book names KU professor among black pioneers in communication studies

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas faculty member Dorthy L. Pennington is one of 11 black scholars nationwide recognized in a new book, Black Pioneers in Communication Research, by Ronald L. Jackson II and Sonja M. Brown Givens.

Recognized as a forerunner in the study of interracial communication, Pennington is an associate professor in the departments of communication studies and African and African-American studies.

The book honors Pennington as an important contributor in communication studies and African-American studies through her exploration and analysis of intercultural and interracial communication of black women.

Robert “Robin” C. Rowland, professor and chair of communication studies, says the department has long known that Pennington was a pioneer in studying the communication of African-Americans and others.

“Going back to the publication of her book, Crossing Difference ... Interracial Communication (co-authored with former KU faculty member Jon Blubaugh) in 1976, she has been a major figure in the field. We are enormously proud of Dorthy’s many accomplishments, including the Steeples award for service to the state of Kansas, which she won in 1999, and happy that the entire discipline of communication studies now recognizes her achievements,” Rowland said.

Pennington has also published African American Women Quitting the Workplace (1999), and Interracial Communication: Case Studies and Critical Incidents (2003-04). She will complete a fourth book, Case Studies in Interracial Communication, this spring. In recent years, many of her journal articles and presentations have focused on encouraging a multicultural curriculum in all learning institutions and on creating a foundation to understand culture’s role in communication.

Scholars included in the book were chosen through a peer selection process based on the scholar’s influence and contributions in humanistic and social scientific inquiry in and beyond communication studies. In addition to noting the research of these pioneers, the authors provide profiles of each scholar describing societal forces that influenced the scholars’ careers and research interests.

Born in rural Mississippi, Pennington attended segregated schools and experienced the tensions of the birth of the civil rights movement in her home state. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English in three years at Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., in 1968, Pennington came to KU as master’s degree student in the speech communication and human relations program.

As a graduate student, Pennington was one of the few students of color in her classes and she became one of the first African-American students to earn a graduate degree in communication studies at KU. In the book, Pennington describes the move from Rust to KU as a major transition, going from a “strongly staunchly segregated society to a strongly Caucasian society.”

Despite feeling like a stranger in a strange land, Pennington enrolled in one course, “The Rhetoric of Black Americans,” that hadn’t been offered in her home state. Ultimately that course influenced her decision to pursue a doctorate in communications. She began researching the rhetoric and influence of black orators and then the rhetoric of black women.

Pennington is a founding member of the National Communication Association’s Black Caucus. The National Communication Association has honored Pennington twice for teaching with a Teacher on Teaching Series Award in 1997 and with a distinguished teacher award from the NCA’s Feminist and Women’s Studies Division in 1995. In 2002, she received a teaching excellence award from KU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

In addition to teaching at KU, Pennington has taught courses on race relations and equal opportunity management at the Department of Defense. In recent years, Pennington has been a humanist scholar with the Kansas Humanities Council and traveled throughout Kansas performing as Sojourner Truth through the council’s History Alive! program.

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