Virginia Thomas, class of 2020


In this interview, Virginia Thomas, Brown University class of 2020, discusses her experience as an academic during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Thomas begins by recalling that she heard about the Coronavirus on the news but tried to believe the virus would not spread despite what she knew about transnational networks from her training in American Studies. She describes visiting her family in North Carolina in early March 2020 and unsuccessfully trying to find N95 masks before returning home to Rhode Island. She also talks about the plane travel back, noticing few people wearing masks or taking other precautions against the virus.

Thomas goes on to describe the anticipation of waiting for University administration’s decision on transferring to online courses and well as her and her students’ reactions to the decision. She also details how she and her students modified their LGBTQ oral history project given social distancing guidelines. Additionally, Thomas notes her concern that as universities evolve to manage the pandemic they may reduce support for students, staff, and faculty.

In closing her interview, Thomas explains that she hopes the pandemic highlights the value of social networks outside of institutions and she wants listeners to know that they are not alone.


Recorded on May 11, 2020 via Zoom
Interviewed by Amanda Knox, Pembroke Center Assistant Archivist

Suggested Chicago style citation: Thomas, Virginia. Interview. By Amanda Knox. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. May 11, 2020.


Virginia Thomas, Ph.D., is a scholar and teacher of race, gender, sexuality, and visuality in US culture and history. In Spring 2020, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University and in Fall, 2020, she began a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University. Her current book project tentatively titled, “Dark Trees: Lynching Aesthetics in Visual Grammars of Family,” examines the centrality of lynching aesthetics to white family visual rhetorics and to an environmentally-just aesthetics of Black world-making. Thomas holds a Ph.D. in American Studies and an M.A. in Public Humanities from Brown University.