By Sarah Bergen
Rider’s faculty is made up of eclectic professors who would do anything for their students but also invest their little free time into passions outside the classroom. This behavior is illustrated perfectly by Dr. Sheena Howard, whose research interest made her the first African-American woman to take home an Eisner Award from Comic-Con this past summer.
After being informed in February that her first book, Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, had been nominated for the award, Howard began to plan a trip to San Diego for Comic-Con, the convention for comic and pop culture lovers held annually in cities around the world.
All of the hard work paid off when Howard and the book’s second editor, Ronald L. Jackson II, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, received what is considered the most prestigious award in the comic industry for Best Scholarly/Academic Work at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards ceremony on July 25.
“When I won, I was in disbelief,” Howard said. “I didn’t even expect to be nominated. I actually cried. When I got to the podium, I couldn’t talk because I was in tears.”
Howard’s book evolved from her dissertation at Howard University, a project that she never anticipated would grow into her first book. The dissertation, The Continuity and Extension of African-American Communication Dynamics through Black Comic Strips, began as an examination of Aaron McGruder’s comic strip Boondocks, which ran daily from 1996-2006. Since the completion of her doctorate in communication and culture, Howard has received the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education’s Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation award and the 2010 Doctoral Dissertation award from the National Communication Association.
Howard joined Rider as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism in 2011 and received a summer research fellowship in order to complete Black Comics, which evaluates how African-Americans have been depicted in comics throughout history.
“The goal is to call attention to the salient themes around race, gender and representation prevalent in historical and contemporary comics,” she explains in Black Comics.
While Howard is a comic expert now, she was not always a fan. She explained that she never even owned a comic book until 2007, and would never have believed that comics would be the topic of her dissertation at the start of her journey to her Ph.D.
Howard continues to find success in her career at Rider and beyond. She released two new books, Black Queer Identity Matrix and Critical Articulations of Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, this year and continues to earn the admiration of Rider students by teaching courses including, but not limited to, Speech Communication and Communication Theory. She has also earned the respect of fellow faculty members.
“I believed when we hired Dr. Howard that she was going to be an outstanding scholar in the field, and she has already exceeded that expectation,” said Dr. Pamela Brown, chair of the communication department. “She also has turned out to be a gifted and hard-working teacher. So our department and students have benefitted greatly by having Dr. Howard at Rider.”
printed in the 9/17/14 edition