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Colleagues toast the USC legacy of Larry Gross

A special celebration brings together Trojans from across campus

Larry Gross at Annenberg celebration
Larry Gross and Sarah Banet-Weiser with School of Journalism Director Michael Parks (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

A leadership shift is scheduled to occur this summer, as Larry Gross, longtime director of the USC Annenberg School of Communication will pass the baton to his successor, colleague Sarah Banet-Weiser.

Gross joined USC Annenberg’s School of Communication as director in 2003, having spent the previous 35 years teaching communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He will continue serving as vice dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

[Gross] is responsible for transforming the school into something different than other communication schools in the entire country.

Sarah Banet-Weiser

A specialist in media and culture, art and communication, visual communication and media portrayals of minorities, Gross helped found the field of gay and lesbian studies.

As director of USC Annenberg’s School of Communication, he added new faculty, staff and students. He co-founded the acclaimed International Journal of Communication with University Professor Manuel Castells and is author of Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing and Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men and the Media in America.

At a celebration in May, Banet-Weiser recalled meeting Gross while she was a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. “I was starstruck but also struck by his generosity,” she said.

Banet-Weiser went on to cite Gross’ many accomplishments as director: “He increased the number of doctoral students, the number of jobs they land, as well as the research and teaching they do,” she said. “He is responsible for transforming the school into something different than other communication schools in the entire country. Faculty want to come here because they can think creatively and do something different.”

Keeping track of ‘Larry’s List’

In the publishing world, she noted that Gross had established the International Journal of Communication and Annenberg Press, both “models for alternative publishing.”

Describing Gross as “intellectually promiscuous,” Banet-Weiser said that Gross had read and critiqued her own work, advancing her thinking with “tough love” before toasting him as her personal “Obi Wan and my own Jedi Master.”

USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III appeared via video to share words of praise for Gross at the celebration.

“Our community owes you a debt of gratitude for your great judgment to make good things happen,” he said, noting that as director of the School of Communication, Gross managed 50 full-time faculty and more than 1,000 students.

Like many in the room, Wilson teased Gross about “Larry’s List,” a compilation of news items and other odds and ends that catch his eye “and demonstrate his expansive mind,” Wilson said.

Many of the speakers also reflected on Gross’ activism outside the university, with Professor Sandra Ball Rokeach, who met Gross in 1968 at Penn, noting: “This guy has made a difference, not just at Annenberg, but beyond with his work with ACT UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power] and gay rights.”

When it came time for Gross to speak, he said: “I’ve had it easy, for the past 46 years in this game. I’ve felt guilty, for the truth is: I’ve had the luxury to administer with resources and unusual luck to work with imaginative deans. Such a lucky streak can’t be taken for granted. I’m bequeathing an amazing set of colleagues to Sarah.”

Nearly 20 of these colleagues from USC Annenberg and across campus shared their memories of working alongside Gross on dissertations, committees and journals, while those he mentored remembered his ability to foster an “open spirit.

Here is a sample of their comments:

George Sanchez, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, USC Dornsife College for Letters, Arts and Sciences:

“I know Larry as a staunch advocate of interdisciplinary studies spanning race, gender and sexuality. Larry, I’ve seen you nurture faculty careers campus-wide at all levels, which speaks to your generosity.”

Felix Gutierrez, professor, USC Annenberg:

“Larry and I first crossed paths as advocates for marginalized groups. He is a valued colleague, someone I could always go to. Larry, you built an environment so people could do their best work, raising visions of who they are and what they can accomplish. Larry, your impact is felt far beyond the Annenberg School.”

Geoffrey Cowan, professor and holder of the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership:

“Larry, you brought courage to the school and made it possible for the school to move forward. Larry, this is your home, where you made your life — a tribute to the community you’ve done so much to build.”

Josh Kun, associate professor, USC Annenberg and USC Dornsife:

“Larry says ‘yes’ to trying anything out, pursuing ideas, following your curiosity. That spirit made the school a singular and rare place … and gave me room to do worthwhile work.”

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Colleagues toast the USC legacy of Larry Gross

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