Rockell Brown Burton, an experienced academic leader and accomplished researcher with a passion for cultivating impactful, mutually beneficial relationships, has been named Associate Dean of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility at the Newhouse School. After a national search, she was chosen from a pool of more than 50 applicants.
“Dr. Brown Burton brings a strong record of leadership and a passion for inclusivity, diversity and equity to the Newhouse School. Students will find her personality infectious, while her experience helps us chart a course for success in this important space,” says Newhouse dean Mark J. Lodato.
Brown Burton is a two-time HBCU graduate with nearly 20 years of experience in higher education as both a faculty member and administrator. A self-described “serial collaborator,” she says she is committed to establishing pathways and pipelines for marginalized and underrepresented groups in the academy and beyond.
“I am beyond excited and thrilled to have the opportunity to join the world renowned Newhouse School of Public Communications,” Brown Burton says. “I am ecstatic to be joining the Newhouse faculty and staff—and the entire Syracuse University family—to move the needle forward and ensure there is inclusion, inclusivity, connection and community at Syracuse.”
Brown Burton joins Newhouse from Texas Southern University (TSU), where she has served as interim dean of the School of Communication for three years. Under her leadership, the school formed several professional partnerships, including a program established in partnership with ABC News that provided students with the opportunity to cover the Democratic debate at Texas Southern University in 2019. Other partnerships include HBCU Game Day, AT&T Regional Sports Net, the Monterrey Jazz Festival and Houston Methodist Hospital TV studios, where Burton developed internships for students from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups. As interim dean, she also established the first School of Communication Advisory Board and oversaw the launch of a student multimedia streaming operation.
“Our loss is your gain,” says Brown Burton’s colleague Arthur Murray, director of student-run multimedia station KTSU2 at TSU. “She is a personable person with the students, and while her talents will be missed, we know she will go on to do great things at your institution. She’s been a great asset here, has led this team over several things, including COVID. She is just phenomenal.”
Brown Burton also has held positions as associate professor of radio, television and film, interim chair of the Department of Speech Communication and director of graduate studies, where she led the charge to overhaul the curriculum and create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for students of color.
Brown Burton is the co-author of “Race and news: A critical perspective” (2011) and several book chapters and journal articles. She holds a Ph.D. in communication from Wayne State University, a master’s degree in human communication studies from Howard University and a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Xavier University.
Brown Burton was an AEJMC Institute for Diverse Leadership in Journalism and Communication Fellow for 2019-20 and was a nominee for the Orlando L. Taylor Distinguished Scholarship Award in Africana Communication. She was named Teacher of the Year and Stellar Communicator by the School of Communication in 2009.
“Rockell Brown Burton stood out to the committee for three notable reasons: Her experience as an academic leader, which many noted positioned her well for success, her history of student-focused initiatives and her record of scholarship that demonstrates she understands our disciplines well,” says Melissa Chessher, who has served in the IDEA role in an interim capacity and chaired the search committee. “She also received strong feedback on her teaching presentation and demonstrated a commanding demeanor and an approachable, calming presence. Given our ongoing work to create more partnerships with HBCUs, we also love that she possesses considerable ties to many of those institutions.”
Chessher also notes Brown Burton’s ability to get things done, her understanding of how universities work and her ability to engage and enlist support from a range of constituents.
Says Syracuse University Trustee and Newhouse Advisory Board member Howard Woolley ’80, president of Howard Woolley Group LLC: “We are looking forward to Rockell’s partnership with Dean Lodato in his efforts to diversify our faculty, student enrollment and the industry at large.”
Other members of the search committee were faculty and staff members Anne Osborne, Hua Jiang, Wes Whiteside, Ulf Osterle and Jeffery Mangram, and students Herve Magaribi Lehani, Aminata Sylla and Michael Spenser.
“The Newhouse School is committed to a diverse enrollment, faculty, staff and curriculum to prepare the next generation of communications professionals,” says Charles W. Stevens ’77, principal at Global Writers Group and a member of the Newhouse Advisory Board. “Creating this new position is just another demonstration of the school’s commitment to diversity. Leaders in journalism and other communications fields can count on Newhouse to produce graduates who reflect and share those values.”