In January, American University announced it had selected prominent journalist, public policy analyst, and author, Sam Fulwood III, to be the Dean of the School of Communication (SOC). His first day in office is May 17. He comes to SOC from the Center for American Progress, where he served as a Senior Fellow and Vice President of Race and Equity. His nationally and internationally recognized work addresses key issues including media influences on American life; race relations; data-driven journalism; and the intersection of media, technology, and democracy, which are all priority areas of focus for SOC. He is the former director and founder of American Progress’s Leadership Institute, a program to assist with the advancement of people of color in public policy. SOC sat down to talk with Dean Fulwood and find out what his goals and aspirations are for the school and the SOC community.
SOC: As the incoming Dean, what are you most excited about?
SF: I am most excited about the opportunity to interact with young people who are going to be the future leaders, the future communicators in our society. To have the opportunity to play a role in the way they think and the aspirations they have for their careers – that is what I am most excited about. There are a lot of components to be able to support that, and I think that’s my job, but it’s all in the service of preparing a future workforce, future thought leaders, and future communicators.
SOC: Why do you think it is important for SOC, and the communications industries where its students will work, to continue and expand DEI initiatives? How can SOC increase student diversity and inclusion?
SF: The world is changing. Historically, the people who led and ran our country were white men. That is not the exclusive case anymore. If we want to preserve the democracy, we must be able to accommodate the demands of the public that is no longer just white men determining what the shape of the course of our nation will be. Universities have to come into the modern world by diversifying their faculty, administration, and curriculum to be relevant. The emphasis of DEI is imperative if we want to exist in a future that is diverse. There is no going back. (At SOC) we will seek to bring in a more diverse class of students every year. We will seek the resources to make that possible. We can communicate to the larger world through our scholarship, and our research, and our service the value and importance of multiculturalism in our society.
SOC: What is one area in which you hope to see SOC expand or grow its programming?
SF: Programmatically, I think there are any number of areas we could explore. Given unlimited resources, I’d like us to look more deeply into the intersection of democracy and communication, and how our society is really imperiled by the breakdown and fragmentation of our trust in communications, in media, in facts. I think that is an enormous area worthy of study. I think climate change and communication is another area where we might want to develop centers, or studies, or seminars to address growing public concerns. Of course, multiculturalism and demographic change, and how we can communicate to the broader world that this is not a threat to our society. But we have limited resources. So, I think realistically and in the short term, we’ll be enhancing what we already have. We have fantastic programs already.
SOC: As the campus re-opens, how will you help strengthen the SOC community?
SF: In a way, the shutdown of everything gives us the opportunity to generate a renaissance, or rebirth, of everything that preceded me. We have an opportunity to do things, not like we used to, but to do them even better. I have been disappointed that in the process of becoming Dean, I have had to be socially distanced from everybody, but I have a great opportunity because I come in new to this job into a new environment and everything around me is going to be changed, too. I’m excited about the opportunity to learn about AU at the same time AU is reinventing itself. I want to have a hand in shaping that reinvention at SOC. We will have a grand re-opening of SOC, and we get to tell the world all over again what we are aspiring to be.
SOC: What opportunities do you see for alumni to engage with SOC?
SF: One of the things I have found is that alumni want to be engaged more, but they haven’t been asked often enough. We want more than just the alumni who want to donate, we want all the alumni to engage with us. We are asking them to meet our students, meet our faculty, meet our staff. We invite them to walk the halls of McKinley. Alumni are the best ambassadors we have because they spent years here, and they have an emotional and psychological tie. We want them to be a part of our story. The success of our alumni is the success of our school. So, we want to get them in here to interact with us. I want to hear what their ideas are, I want them to feel a part of our community again.
SOC: What’s something that we should know about you that we wouldn’t find on your resume/CV or the web?
SF: I’m a huge Marvin Gaye and Motown fan. 60’s and 70’s R&B is not on my CV, although I did teach a course on how Motown was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. Much of my work has dealt with race and public policy and for me it’s fascinating to relate that to pop culture. I’ve become enamored with how pop culture and racial awareness plays off one another in society. I’m a struggling blues guitarist. I’m not very good, but I do enjoy playing. And I am a serious amateur photographer. During 2020, I wandered around the city taking pictures in black and white, to illustrate the isolation and the feeling of what Covid was like in an urban center, and I’ve been very pleased with the outcome of that personal project. And, I like to play poker.
May 17, 2021 marks the first official day for Sam Fulwood III as Dean of the School of Communication, so let's start off with a proper introduction! Listen as Dean Fulwood addresses the SOC and AU community at large.