By Buhle Andisiwe Made
She initially connected with Rhodes University in 2018 when she travelled from the United States of America to Makhanda. Howard University Professor Jennifer Thomas is back in the motherland to share her skills and expertise with Rhodes University students and lecturers as a Fulbright Specialist Fellow. This program allows scholars to travel to different parts of the world to share their knowledge and expertise.
Thomas describes herself as compassionate, God-fearing, and loving – a journalist, storyteller, and professor. At a young age, her father motivated her to read and keep up with what was happening in her community and country. Her inquisitive nature prompted a particular thirst for knowledge and current affairs. And years later, after attending Howard University as a Journalism and Media studies graduate, she is experiencing a full circle moment. Professor Thomas is elated by her journey, evoking resonance when she shares her education with her students at Howard University: “I sat right there; in this same building”.
HBCU is an abbreviation for Historically Black College or University, a chain that began in 1837 – institutions created to educate Black leaders and people. Howard University is known as one of the prominent HBCUs in America. Throughout time, media culture has not depicted them in a manner of significance due to an absence of fact: journalists being ignorant of the culture of education and the leaders that have graduated through such institutions and have contributed to the advancement of society. HBCUs create a culture of students, especially Black students, to feel included and comfortable studying without feeling othered. She adds, “You can just be comfortable at being in college for what you are supposed to do, being enlightened, building a community and making lifelong friends with people who are like you.”
Howard University positions itself as a leading institution based on the quality it offers through its educational techniques and the range of courses available for the students. Professor Thomas mentions, “Our record speaks for itself”. In addition to that, the university has a renowned alumnus genre of contributors to society and others like Thomas who return to their alma mater to become educators in their field. American Vice President Kamala Harris is a notable alum of Howard University herself.
Media and journalism can be used as tools to educate the masses on specific topics. A way to inform people, in terms of the West, of Black culture and communities is through compelling storytelling, Thomas says. She uses the acronym FAITH – fair, accurate, interesting, thorough, and human- to apply to effectively translate news through different aspects of society. It is important to be inclusive racially, culturally and through genre when considering coverage and stories that are ‘newsworthy’.
Thomas will spend the next four weeks in Makhanda in the School of Journalism and Media Studies, sharing her expertise in research and education projects with lecturers Dr Alette Schoon and Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki. In her research, Thomas will examine the connection between Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs), the Eastern Cape and journalists. She will also work with students for the Rhodes TV Debates project, directed by Gqubule-Mbeki, where she imparts them with broadcast and news skills.
Professor Jennifer Thomas lives by the motto: “Journalists are defenders of democracy, freedom fighters of the First Amendment and savvy and sophisticated storytellers”.