Meet a Tiger: Rhondda Robinson Thomas
A desire to know more: This Tiger and sixth-generation South Carolinian conducted research that changed the narrative about Clemson University’s history.
Title: Associate professor of English
Years at Clemson: 10.5 years
What I do at Clemson: I conduct research and teach courses for English majors and the general education program in early African-American and American literature. My current research includes editing Volume 1, 1775-1800, of Cambridge University Press’s new African American Literature in Transition series. I also advise English majors as they complete their degrees and start their careers or prepare for graduate school. At the university level, I am the representative for the College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities on the Council of Inclusion, which is housed in the Office of Inclusion and Equity. Additionally, I am a member of the Clemson History Implementation Team that is implementing the Board of Trustees’ recommendations for the university to share its complete history.
What I love about Clemson: Clemson is a place where people can learn, grow and serve. There’s an ethos of excellence in academics as well as a generosity in serving those in need that energizes our community.
What was a defining moment for you at Clemson: My time as a faculty-in-residence. I lived in the Calhoun Courts residential community for three years. It provided a total-immersion Clemson experience. Living with students and having the chance to interact with many of them in various settings outside of the classroom made me feel incredibly connected to the university. I also appreciated the opportunity to work with the Clemson Home staff and regularly attended many events that were scheduled late in the day or early evening.
Accomplishment I’m most proud of: I was selected as a Whiting Foundation Public Humanities Fellow for the 2018-19 academic year for my Black Clemson: From Enslavement to Integration traveling museum exhibition project. Black Clemson examines African Americans’ journey from enslavement to integration on proslavery American statesman John C. Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation, where Clemson University was built, and around which the town of Clemson developed. These stories include those of:
1) enslaved people who labored on Fort Hill prior to Emancipation,
2) freedmen, women, and children who worked as sharecroppers on Fort Hill during Reconstruction,
3) incarcerated laborers, aged 13-77, who erected the university’s earliest buildings,
4) wage workers the university employed to maintain the campus infrastructure and work in the extension program during the Jim Crow era,
5) musicians like Duke Ellington hired by the Clemson student-run Central Dance Association to perform at social events, and
6) students, faculty, and staff who came to the university during the first decade of integration.
Black Clemson also chronicles the development of a vibrant, resilient African-American community in the City of Clemson and nearby communities. This history includes stories about free blacks during the antebellum period, the establishment of houses of worship such as the Abel Baptist Church and the King’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church; social venues like Keese Barn, a country store-antique shop-eatery that served as a community gathering space and Horace and Gertrude’s Littlejohn Grill, a nightclub-restaurant-hotel where black musicians like James Brown and the Supremes performed and where travelers could find accommodations; educational institutions such as Seneca Junior College, the Silver Spring School, and the Calhoun Elementary School; and the Calhoun and Goldenview neighborhoods. The project has received generous financial support from Clemson’s Office of the Provost, Dr. James and Edith Bostic Jr., and a grant from South Carolina Humanities. Black Clemson is based on research that is being conducted for my Call My Name: African Americans in Early Clemson University History project.
Where I see myself in five years: After becoming a full professor, I plan on taking an around-the-world trip with my husband while dreaming up plans for our retirement years.
Last thing I watched on TV: “This Is Us”
Guilty pleasure: Vegan cooking. I love baking vegan desserts like lemon pound cake and making coconut milk ice cream–especially strawberry–and experimenting with cooking cauliflower, potatoes, rice, and noodles and other simple plant foods in a variety of ways. I also invest in kitchen toys, with my current favorites being my instant pot, ice cream maker and air fryer.
One thing people don’t know about you: I was quite athletic in high school. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in competitive sports at Georgia-Cumberland Academy, I took up running and played on intramural softball and volleyball teams.
Want to nominate a colleague to be featured in Meet a Tiger? Contact Jackie Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.