Terrance Dean, a gifted facilitator who linked people with opportunities and raised awareness of social injustices, died Aug. 11, 2022 at age 53.
An assistant professor of Black studies at Denison since 2019, Dean made a significant impact in a short time span with his passionate approach to activism and relationship building. He challenged students and friends alike to reach their potential in a firm yet empathetic manner.
Through his experiences as an MTV executive, author, journalist, and social commentator, Dean built a vast network of contacts, helping students find internships and employment.
“Terrance connected students to opportunities,” said Toni King, a professor of Black studies and women’s and gender studies and the director of the Center for Black Studies. “He was generous with his networking.”
Dean joined the Columbus Dispatch editorial board in 2020 and coordinated a series of guest columns from the Black community after the death of George Floyd. He also created a podcast series, In Black and White, with co-host Scot Kirk, and opened his home to foster care children through programs that provide a respite for foster parents who might need a break from the daily stresses of parenting or who have obligations that might prevent them from including their child.
“Terrance put his hand up for so many things, I don’t know where he found the time to do them all,” said Alan Miller, a visiting instructor in journalism and a former Dispatch executive editor. “He was constantly getting involved with projects.”
Miller added that Dean, a Detroit native, thrived at illuminating “uncomfortable truths” in society. A prolific writer, he explored his own sexuality in books such as Hiding in Hip Hop and Straight From Your Gay Best Friend.
Dean earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from Fisk University in Nashville before moving to New York in the early 1990s. He worked in the entertainment industry, including a stint with MTV Networks, where he helped produce award shows.
Returning to college, Dean attained two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in religion and African American diaspora studies. Asked about his wide range of endeavors and interests, Dean told Kirk, a Dispatch web producer, “I’m here for whatever the universe has in store.”
“Terrance believed in cultivating opportunities,” Kirk said. “He was not afraid to fail, and he refused to settle.”
Dean wanted those around him to develop a similar attitude. Kirk recalls the Denison professor admonishing him for making excuses for not pursuing his long-term goals. “He was very honest and direct,” Kirk said. “He recognized things in people that they didn’t see in themselves, and he was unapologetic in pointing them out.”
Marcus Nowling ’23 considered Dean a mentor and a motivator, someone who never stopped pushing him to improve.
Nowling served as a research assistant in the university’s William Payne Innovation Lab for Racial, Social, Political, and Communal Sustainability. Started by Dean, the lab worked to preserve the heritage of Allensworth, the first Black colony in California, which was co-founded by Payne, a 1906 Denison graduate.
Accompanying Dean on two trips to Allensworth last school year, Nowling wrote a story on the experience for The Reporting Project, the nonprofit news organization of Denison’s journalism program. The student also spoke at Dean’s on-campus remembrance in September despite his aversion to public speaking. “I felt like I needed to do it and that Dr. Dean would have wanted me to do it,” Nowling said. “I wanted to show the impact he had on me as a Black man. He shaped my personality, and he connected me to so many people.”