Tressie McMillan Cottom is an American writer, sociologist, and professor. She is currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS), and is also an affiliate of the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) at UNC-Chapel Hill. She was formerly an associate professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. In 2020, McMillan Cottom was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of her work “at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology.”
Early life and education
McMillan Cottom was born in Harlem and raised in Winston-Salem and Charlotte, North Carolina. Her mother was a member of the Black Panther Party in Winston-Salem. Before completing her undergraduate degree McMillan Cottom worked as an enrollment officer at a technical college, a job that would inform her later research and her first book. McMillan Cottom received her B.A. from North Carolina Central University, a public HBCU, in English and political science. While pursuing her Ph.D. at Emory University McMillan Cottom worked as a visiting fellow at the University of California, Davis Center for Poverty Research and as a Microsoft Research Social Media Collective intern. She also wrote the biweekly “Counter Narrative” column for Slate magazine. She earned her PhD in sociology from Emory University in 2015 with a dissertation on the legitimacy of for-profit higher education institutions.
In 2015 McMillan Cottom was appointed as an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. She was awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of associate professor in 2019. In 2020, she left Virginia Commonwealth University to join the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.