Graduate Student Proud of Her Grandmother’s Legacy at Winthrop

January 13, 2023


  • Graduate student Jaelyn-Alicia Fossett recognized the impact on her life by her grandmother, the late Dorothy Perry Thompson who was an English professor and poet and started the African American Studies program at Winthrop.
  • The 30th anniversary of the African American Studies program will be celebrated in the spring with an exhibit in the Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections, a dance production and a fundraising dinner. 

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA – As graduate student Jaelyn-Alicia Fossett participated in the Dec. 17 Commencement ceremony at Winthrop University, she thought about her grandmother’s legacy.

She talked in the days before earning her master’s degree in social work about the impact on her life by the late Dorothy Perry Thompson, an English professor and poet who started the African American Studies program at Winthrop.

“Everything Grandma Dot did had meaning. She did not believe in half-stepping at all,” said Fossett, who was young when her grandmother passed away from cancer in 2002. Even though it has been 20 years since her passing, Thompson’s impact looms large for her family, and for Winthrop.

“She was big on education (obviously) and literature. We knew Black authors and Black writers from a young age because she ensured that we had that knowledge engrained in us,” Fossett said. “She was an excellent role model of the importance of knowing your culture and your history. She walked with grace, she held herself to the highest standard, and she expected nothing but the best from her children and grandchildren.”

Thompson Championed African-American Culture

Born in Orangeburg County, Thompson earned her B.A. in English from Allen University, then a M.A.T. from the University of South Carolina. After teaching at three Columbia area high schools, she returned to USC to earn a Ph.D. In 1987, she became the second African American in the school’s history to earn a Ph.D. in English and the first to complete a creative writing dissertation there, under the direction of author James Dickey.

At Winthrop, Thompson was known as a gifted and respected scholar, teacher and poet. Hired to teach courses in African-American literature, American literature and poetry, Thompson championed the start of a minor in African American Studies. 

The 30th anniversary of that program will be celebrated in the spring, said Jennifer Dixon-McKnight, an assistant professor of history and African American Studies. There will be an exhibit in the Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections, a dance production and a fundraising dinner. 

Upon Thompson’s passing, the university started an annual event to remember her contributions. Fossett recalled returning to the Winthrop campus with other family members to attend the annual Dorothy Perry Thompson Colloquium, an event to bring in writers and scholars to talk about the different aspects of the African-American experience. This year’s colloquium will be held this spring.

“I’ve always felt so proud to be her grandchild,” Fossett added.

Fossett said that she and her cousin, Daren Perry Thompson, were proud to carry on the family name by attending Winthrop. “I'd like to think that she would be so honored that we both chose to continue her legacy at her school,” Fossett said.  

A Rock Hill native, Fossett earned a bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in child and family studies from Lander University. Like her grandmother, she is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. 

She works full time at a pain clinic in Mooresville, North Carolina. Her long-term goal is to run a non-profit that helps families and individuals with autism spectrum disorder. 

For more information, contact Judy Longshaw, news and media services manager, at

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