On Wednesday, Howard University announced that Phylicia Rashad will be the university’s inaugural Toni Morrison Endowed Chair in Arts and Humanities, established in May 2021.

Rashad is a Howard alum and currently serves as the dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.

“Dean Rashad epitomizes the character, grace and creative genius that we want represented in an endowed chair as part of Toni Morrison’s legacy,” said Howard University Provost Anthony K. Wutoh, PhD. “As the inaugural chairholder, we look forward to the significant contributions that she will make in shaping the educational and creative experience for our students.” 

Rashad is an award-winning actress, singer, and director who first rose to stardom for her performance as Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom, “The Cosby Show.” In 2004, she became the first Black actress to win a Tony Award for best actress in a play for playing Lena Younger in a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“It is with great honor that we announce Dean Phylicia Rashad as the first holder of the Toni Morrison Endowed Chair in Arts and Humanities,” said President Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA. “Toni Morrison left her mark as one of the greatest figures in American literature, and her legacy is one that continues to inspire future generations of writers and thinkers. By establishing an endowed chair in her name, we hope to deepen our students’ exposure to literary and other creative arts and to continue to remember Ms. Morrison’s legacy. Dean Rashad is the perfect choice for this position, and I look forward to her contributions in this role.” 

The Toni Morrison Chair in Arts and Humanities came to fruition thanks to a generous $3 million gift from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. 

The endowment will support initiatives related to elevating Howard University’s scholarship and creative work across the arts and humanities. Activities can include but are not limited to support for travel, facilities upgrades, equipment purchases, and student-related expenses. 

According to the university, as the chair, Rashad “will foster a vibrant intellectual community in the arts and humanities, and will collaborate with faculty across the disciplines to oversee the development of an Arts & Humanities Leadership Laboratory. The laboratory will position these disciplines at Howard University to be leaders in addressing rolling social issues and advancing new possibilities for human fulfillment, as well as to prepare future alumni for leadership roles in the context of an increasingly diverse America.”

Toni Morrison, the namesake of the award, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Howard University in 1953 and returned to her alma mater to teach in the Department of English in 1958. The famed author was the recipient of numerous honors, including a Nobel Prize, the American Book Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Professor Morrison was the empress of the English language and a remarkable human being whose generosity of spirit continues to touch and inspire so many,” said Rashad. “I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this appointment.”