Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Roger House becomes the first African American male professor to receive emeritus status

Photo courtesy of Roger House

After 24 years at Emerson College, Roger House retired with professor emeritus status, a lifelong distinction of honor for a professor, the first African American male professor to do so. 

House said receiving the distinction of becoming the first Black professional in anything is “bittersweet.”

“[It’s] bitter because you are aware of the many worthy people who came before you, but were denied for reasons beyond their credentials,” House said. “But sweet because you are the one to wear down the opposition and cross the finish line.” 

House was hired as an assistant professor in September 2000, back when the Emerson campus was slowly transitioning from its Back Bay location to the Theater District. He taught African American History and U.S. History, which was already offered at Emerson when he arrived. He later created the classes Blacks, Whites and Blues and History of the Alternative Press. 

In 2008, House and former faculty member Pierre Desir were denied tenure. Out of the five professors who applied for tenure in that cycle, only House and Desir were denied, and they were also the only applicants of color. They filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and the Emerson administration ended up consulting a panel about racial equity in the tenure process. 

“The panel’s conclusions were no doubt painful for the college to accept—and validated our challenge to the status quo—and ignited a process of reform that continues to play out,” House said. “There is still work to be done, especially as it regards opportunities for young men, but there is more justice for Black campus citizens today. I will always be proud of my contribution to this small part of the struggle.”

According to the Faculty Handbook, nominees (current or retired tenured or senior term faculty) for emeritus status must submit or have submitted on their behalf a written nomination to the dean of the school in which they are retiring. The dean then solicits comments and recommendations, who forwards them to the vice president of Academic Affairs, who then sends them to the president for consideration. The president recommends the candidate to the appropriate Board of Trustees committee that approves Academic Affairs matters. Before the next Commencement Day, the Board of Trustees votes on the nomination.

A historian and journalist, House has multiple published works on Black culture, politics, and history. He published “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy” in 2010 and “South End Shout: Boston’s Forgotten Music Scene in the Jazz Age” in 2023. He is currently writing his semi-retirement project, “500 Years of Black Self Governance: A Call to Conscience,” which will be published by Louisiana State University Press. House said it will chronicle the “autonomous Black settlements that arose in resistance to slavery” and “contribute to an emerging field of Atlantic World studies that re-envisions the history of the Americas after Columbus.”

Before coming to the college, House received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal for nearly a decade. He later earned his postgraduate degrees from Boston University and lectured at UMass Boston before joining the Emerson faculty. 

House moved to online courses during the pandemic and started phasing out his retirement. He found converting to virtual learning models easier than constant, weary commutes. 

“While remote teaching is not as rewarding as in-person, it can be a way for older professors or those with mobility challenges to extend teaching careers,” House said. “I hope to continue to do this in semi-retirement if there is a need by the college.”

Now that he is no longer teaching, House said he hopes to further his research on Black political culture. He writes opinion articles for The Hill, The Daily Beast, and Black press publications. 

Assistant Professor Michael Brown has been friends with House since he first arrived on campus. The two had offices next to each other on the sixth floor of the Walker Building. Brown said House’s dual expertise in history and journalism made him a unique asset to the department. 

“Everybody really liked Roger. He just got along,” Brown said. “That’s who he was.”

House leaves behind a legacy in his distinguished work and teaching career. He said professors serve multiple purposes on campus as “teachers, researchers and quasi-administrators.”

“A great deal of time and energy is devoured by student meetings, special task forces, curriculum retreats, department committees, college committees, faculty search committees, diversity imperatives, and before Zoom, getting to them all,” House said. “In regards to service expectations, what students see about the work of a professor is only the tip of the iceberg.”

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About the Contributor
Emma Siebold, Staff Writer
Emma Siebold (she/her) is a first-year journalism major/political communications minor from Spring Branch, Texas. She is also an associate producer for WEBN-TV and editorial assistant at Emerson Today. Outside of the newsroom, Emma enjoys training with the Dashing Whippets running team, listening to folk music, and obsessing over Marvel movies.

Comments (2)

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  • J

    Joyce Williams / Feb 16, 2024 at 8:12 am

    Congratulations Roger on all your achievements throughout your journey. This honor is overdue and well deserved.

  • G

    Glenn Watson / Feb 15, 2024 at 1:40 am

    Way to go Roger we are happy for you keep up the goog work✊🏿