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Texas Southern University dean’s life experiences drive her desire to make a difference in the world

Written by on February 5, 2021

By Kennedi Robinson, Texas Southern University

Dr. Dianne Jemison-Pollard
Dr. Dianne Jemison-Pollard (TSU)

Dr. Dianne Jemison-Pollard holds a near and dear place in the heart of Texas Southern University. Jemison-Pollard’s infectious spirit and creative successes have opened many doors and allowed her to partake in numerous opportunities around the world as well as on the university’s campus.

With more than 40 years of service at TSU, Jemison-Pollard currently serves as the Dean of the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College and professor of Theatre in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

Raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the Civil Rights era, Pollard has always been exposed to knowing how to deal with people from different walks of life. Her father, Rev. Theodore Judson Jemison, instilled in her at a very young age the importance of being kind and sharing love despite the racial unrest at the time.

“My father, Reverend Jemison, led the first bus boycott in Louisiana in 1953, two years before the nationally known bus boycott with Rosa Parks. He helped me, because instead of spewing hate, in which he could have, he never did. There were times when my mother had a knife to her neck when she opened the door or when the Klu Klux Klan were burning crosses. My dad never was a hateful person; therefore, I just grew up that way,” Pollard said.

She tells how her artistry as a director has helped her move accordingly in life with a job having to deal with all kinds of people.

“As a stage director, you have to know and understand people,” Jemison-Pollard said. “Sometimes people say, ‘Every actor is alike.’ I’ve learned that you don’t do that. Everyone is an individual. People appreciate you more when you meet them where they are. Don’t go in with preset notions.”

As her kind and loving spirit stands out on its own, Pollard’s intellect in theatre allowed for her to accumulate numerous accolades for her hard work as well. Pollard has four degrees including a B.A. in Speech and Drama, M.A. in Communications, and an M.F.A. in Directing. She is an award-winning university stage director who has directed more than 50 productions from Greek and Shakespeare to contemporary theatre, musicals and children’s theatre. In addition, she has written 18 religious pageants which have been produced in different places around the world.

While Pollard is a theatre arts scholar, she decided to go back to school to receive her doctorate degree in Counseling at Texas Southern University. Pollard’s dissertation, “The Use of Music to Improve Social Skills Development in Children Diagnosed with Autism,” was curated and dedicated to her daughter, Celeste, after seeking answers on what helped children with autism.

“For many years, I just wanted to figure things out. After a period of years, I decided I needed to take a few classes and learn more about this autism, so I could help my daughter. The classes were at Texas Southern. I started with one class, and then two, and then three and so on. Then someone came to me and said to me, ‘You might as well join the program and get your doctorate.’ Then I thought, ‘Why not?’ So, 75 hours later, I had my doctorate,” Pollard said.

She explained how the idea of the dissertation came about and the research that had to be done.

“I noticed my daughter’s behavior was always a source of concern, but whenever I’d sing or played music, her behavior was redirected, and she acted so nice. I experimented with that for a while, and then decided that my dissertation topic should be how music helps children with autism,” Pollard said.

“I went around to different schools. Some of the children in the classrooms had music while others did not. From that, I was able to work through my thesis and see the reactions of children. Students indeed did light up whenever the music was played. It didn’t matter if it was a physical problem or mental challenge. The music certainly had an impact on the children,” Pollard added.

While Pollard’s dissertation was originally thought of to further her own personal knowledge on autism, it has played a huge role in assisting others as well.

“My daughter is 34 now, and she’s in a day program. Part of that program is music. Not only does it help my daughter, but the workers there have caught on. They’ve been able to see that music helps the others as well. That’s just one way I’ve been able to help out in that small circle. To this day, so many people have called me from all over the world and asked me about my dissertation. It’s played a role in assisting people gain knowledge just from what I’ve learned about autism,” Pollard said.

Pollard’s work at Texas Southern University as well as in the community leaves us hopeful for a brighter future. She has touched the lives of many, some of whom she’s never even met. Her loving demeanor and outstanding work has left an indelible mark on the university and the world.

“I love people. Not only do I teach class in a subject matter, I try to help people in life. If you want to go far, you have to stand on some type of principle. I just want to instill work ethic and pride in the work that we do in the world,” Pollard said.

■ This story was written to chronicle Houston’s Black history as part of a partnership between KTSU2, “The Voice”, and KPRC-TV, for Black History Month.