WFI Research Projects

One of the ways that we enact the WFI’s mission — communication as central to the creation of positive social change — is through the funding of research grants. These awards support the projects of Communication scholars colleges and universities across the United States and across the world. We hope, through these grants, to help support the kinds of communication-focused research needed to engage the complexities of social change and social justice.

Each year, the WFI provides funds to support research conducted by scholars at Villanova and institutions across the world. Although we do not limit our grants to a specific methodological orientation or subdisciplinary focus, all projects supported by the WFI have two things in common: they make communication the primary, and not secondary, focus, and they engage communication in terms of its impact on the world around us, its ability to create social change. The funds awarded can be applied to the hiring of graduate assistants, acquisition of resources, travel, and/or any other appropriate research related expenses.

The WFI Research Grants are selectively awarded. All submitted proposals are peer reviewed and judged on the basis of the research project's quality, originality, and fit with the mission of The Waterhouse Family Institute.

Each year, the due date for WFI Research Grants will be in early May, with funds available to successful applicants in early June. The specific date will be announced as part of each year's call for grant applications.

2015-2016 WFI Funded Projects (listed in alphabetical order)

(NB: to learn about previous years' recipients, please click a link at left)

 

Grant Awarded ($5,000): The Development and Influence of Heterosexual Television Viewers’ Parasocial Relationships with Gay Characters

Principal Investigator: Bradley J. Bond, University of San Diego.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents are significantly more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience maladjustment, depression, and suicide. Anti-gay bullying and discrimination from the heterosexual majority have been implicated as toxic contributors to the negative health outcomes associated with developing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual (i.e., sexual minority) identity. Research suggests that depictions of gay characters on television could increase the emotional health and well-being of sexual minorities by altering heterosexual viewers’ attitudes toward sexual minorities. Little is known, however, about the underlying mechanisms through which television influences heterosexuals’ attitudes. This study will track the development of parasocial relationships between heterosexual audiences and gay television characters over time, examine how heterosexual audiences’ parasocial relationships with gay characters vary based on the sexual explicitness of the gay characters’ behaviors, and test the relationship between heterosexual viewers’ parasocial relationships with gay characters and their endorsement of gay equality. This study will be the first to track the development of parasocial relationships over time using an adult sample and among the first to empirically examine the underlying processes through which television influences heterosexuals’ attitudes toward sexual minorities. 

 

Grant Awarded ($5,000): León’s Graffiti Worlds: Citizen Voices in Aerosol, Graffiti as Communication Practice

Principal Investigator: Caitlin Bruce, University of Pittsburgh.

This book project, León’s Graffiti Worlds: Citizen Voices in Aerosol, Graffiti as Communication Practice, explores the history of graffiti in León Guanajuato Mexico from 2000 to 2015, built from extensive interviews I conducted between 2012 and 2017 with graffiti practitioners (writers) as well as institutional supporters and local historians. In the book, I argue that graffiti is a vital form of public communication and social critique, and a means of social change. León is the first city where city-supported legal graffiti has been promoted on a large scale, and the 2009-2012 pilot program was generally described as an unmitigated success by city sources. However, drawing on writer testimony and archival documents, I chart a more complex trajectory. I map the evolving status of the graffiti writer: from delinquent, to civic exemplar, to employee of the state, to a not-yet-resolved status. It is through this public art form that León’s youth challenge violent state politics; corrosive capitalism; and exploitative international relations, and yet, this form of communication is under analyzed in communication studies, and is often misunderstood, seen either as mindless vandalism or erudite and straightforward refusal, rather than the complex and often ambivalent territory it straddles: a form of expression between the official and the vernacular, the legal and the illegal. This project is the first large-scale study of legal graffiti, and the first study of legal graffiti from a communication studies perspective that relies on writer testimony. By engaging with artists and activists, and documenting their work and their voices, this project rebuts stereotypes or clichés about graffiti artists, and serves as support for future cases about the key role the public art can play in making city spaces and urban communities more inclusive and more just.

 

Grant Awarded ($10,000): “Puerto Rico on the Brink”: Communicating Energy Justice amidst Intersectional Crises 

Principal Investigator: Kathleen M. de Onís, Indiana University-Bloomington.

Puerto Rico has endured a long, violent colonial history marked by economic, political, and environmental exploitation. Since 1898, the Island nation has been constrained by U.S. political dictates and legal impositions. One effect of U.S. colonialism is Puerto Rico’s current $73 billion debt, which may require the local government to cease operations in a few months because of insufficient funds. This economic crisis is partially attributed to the Island’s public utility company, which distributes imported fossil fuels for electricity, especially costly petroleum. As Puerto Rico’s entangled political, economic, and energy situation continues to deteriorate, the United States’ once docile “rich port” is now perceived by some as an uncontrollable, expensive burden for the United States. During the summers of 2015 and 2016, I will visit Puerto Rico to examine how local grassroots communities communicate about and seek to intervene in energy and environmental controversies. I employ rhetorical field methods and turn to scholarship on countervisuality, cultural nationalism, and social imaginaries as frameworks for my engagement with Island Puerto Rican activist voices. This project involves local community members beyond initial field encounters by 1) requesting their feedback on my academic writing; 2) working collaboratively and transnationally with Puerto Rican scholars who study local energy and environmental concerns; and 3) producing a community-generated documentary film about environmental communication for audiences in the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico. My study evinces how marginalized discourses can encourage transnational, decolonial ways of thinking about and enacting economic, political, and energy justice by decentering communication studies’ focus on extractive industry corporate discourses, popular media, and mainland contexts. In so doing, this project will help communication scholars attend to the intersection of environmental and colonial abuses, the complexities of a just transition to renewable energy in different contexts, and the pivotal role of vernacular discourse in shaping these processes. This project also offers local activists opportunities for reflection on and heightened awareness about the efficacy of their own language choices, message framing, and modes of protest. Such contributions are both timely and urgent, as Puerto Rico teeters “on the brink.” 

 

Grant Awarded ($8,594): Finding the Impact Zone: Testing Health News for the Native American Audience 

Principal Investigators: Sherice Gearhart (PI) and Teresa Trumbly-Lamsam, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Minority news audiences are known to rely heavily on news media for health information, and the trust and effectiveness of that information is greatly enhanced when it appears in ethic media. For Native Americans, an at-risk population that suffers from staggering health disparities, tribal newspapers are the most consumed form of news media. However, little is known about the effectiveness of health news targeted specifically to the Native audience. This proposed experiment will present the first systematic attempt at analyzing the impact of such messages, effectively filling a gap in existent health communication research. The expectation is that this work will indicate what elements of reported news stories Native Americans see as credible, which messages are capable of imparting knowledge, influencing attitude changes, and inducing positive behaviors that can result in their improved health. These results have the robust potential to impart significant practical importance as our community partners and other health and media groups utilize this information to better reach Native peoples. 

 

Grant Awarded ($3,000): Examining University Students’ Sense-Makings About Diversity, Difference, and Race: A Cross-Regional Study

Principal Investigator: Rona Tamiko Halualani, San Jose State University.

Since Census 2000, the U.S. media has regularly highlighted dramatic shifts in the nation’s burgeoning demographic diversity. For example, news reports feature the huge influx of Asian and Latino immigrants and the widespread growth of Asian and Latino communities in areas historically established by Whites/European Americans. The university – now deemed as the multicultural university — stands as one of the few remaining contexts in which societal members (as students) have the opportunity to interact with racially/ethnically different persons. In such a context, with major demographic shifts, university educators/administrators have made efforts to engage diversity by, for example, developing General Education diversity curricula and creating campus programs that facilitate intercultural cooperation. However, such moves have masked the university’s presumption that, with the presence of diversity, racially/ethnically different students will “naturally” and positively interact with each other. Diversity has, therefore, become a heavily emphasized and taken-for granted campus slogan for universities. Hence, there is a dearth of knowledge about how today’s college students actually interface with and experience diversity from their own lived perspectives and identities. Such information is necessary to reconceptualize diversity as more than just a superficial feature of campus life but an active issue of concern that requires deep analysis, reflection, and appropriate action from the perspective of those who are most affected by diversity shifts and initiatives at the multicultural university: college students. This proposal stands as a one year-study of how college students understand and make sense of diversity, difference, and race in their lives. In this study, I will interview 75 students from various backgrounds across three multicultural universities in three separate regions of the United States. Such a study stands as the first of its kind in the Communication discipline in a) providing much needed information about how today’s university students subjectively process and understand diversity, difference, and race across regions, and b) uncovering student attitudes towards diversity and motivations/obstacles for engaging in intercultural contact.

 

Grant Awarded ($2,800): Evaluating Participatory Budgeting in Greensboro 

Principal Investigator: Spoma Jovanovic, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Our communities provide the greatest hope for experiencing democracy in action. By upholding public participation and deliberative processes as central to communal life, a strong democracy is possible as the collective will of people is ignited. This research examines the phenomenon of community engagement in local political processes by evaluating the ways people communicate and participate with the City of Greensboro’s inaugural Participatory Budgeting (PB) process. PB is an open, democratic process that builds the capacity of ordinary community members to deliberate and decide how to spend a part of the city’s budget to make their city a better place to live. After four years of grassroots organizing efforts in Greensboro [some of which were made possible by a previously-awarded WFI Research Grant], $500,000 was approved by the City Council in October 2014 for projects to be implemented in 2016-2017. Nearly a year of community meetings and proposal development will occur in 2015-2016 when the public voting on the first round of PB is completed. Program evaluation throughout the process up until the time of public voting is viewed as critical to accomplish three distinct, yet interrelated goals: first, it will provide data for the City of Greensboro to determine how much money in subsequent years to invest in PB, based in part on the quality and quantity of community participation; second, the data will be used relate the experiences of PB in Greensboro to other PB processes in the United States and around the world for the purposes of improving the process; third, the research will contribute to the body of communication scholarship focused on advancing social justice by encouraging historically underrepresented voices to be fully integrated into processes for social change. 

 

Grant Awarded ($7,500): Art to Heal: JMSS Art as Visual Civic Discourse

Principal Investigator: JongHwa Lee, Hawaii Pacific University.

The purpose of this research is to assess the artworks by the survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (JMSS) as artifacts of civic discourse, in the context of civic history museum projects and memory politics in North East Asia. First, ‘giving a testimony’ (and offering a counter-narrative) by the survivors of JMSS, often organized and created by the NGOs (for women’s/human rights), worked more as an ‘act’ of resistance rather than ‘textual’ addendum, which is performative and visual ways of taking a stand or making a statement, and spatially and temporally sharing of a civic experience. The second common form, yet ‘creative’ way, to express their ‘view’ is through their artworks. Originally, the survivors started their art projects more for ‘therapeutic healing effects’ in more private and intimate settings (as opposed to the public setting of giving a testimony), yet some of the artworks (paintings and pressed-flower works) provide powerful visual images, often beyond what words could explain, that exposed and testified to the horrors of JMSS. Together in oral testimony and in visual artifacts, the survivors produced a counter-civic discourse – scene and form to influence and challenge public perception/knowledge on JMSS. Specifically, the study analyzes the artworks as (1) ‘visual rhetoric’ (visual application of and implications for rhetorical consciousness) and (2) ‘visual evidence/witness’ (as mental images, phantasmata) in the construction of public memory, for the survivors’ artworks often appear in various civic history museums as powerful visual representation of JMSS to expose and to testify the hardships during and after the JMSS. Grounded in a critical/cultural rhetorical scholarship, this research also intends to contribute to a broader public discussion on the politics of civic memory projects, and on the historical justice and reconciliation in North East (NE) Asia. 

 

Grant Awarded ($5,000): Identifying with a Stereotype: Disentangling the Societal Effects of Latino Television Characters

Principal Investigators: Bryan McLaughlin (PI) and Nathian S. Rodriguez, Texas Tech University.

The emerging mediated intergroup contact literature provides optimism that minority television characters can reduce prejudice against minorities, which should ultimately help achieve positive social change. This stands in sharp contrast to the long history of scholarship demonstrating the negative effects of media stereotypes. Thus, there is a need to develop theoretical models that can bridge the gap between these opposing camps. This proposal seeks support to advance our concept of stereotyped identification – the idea that cognitively identifying with fictional characters can increase acceptance of minorities, while reinforcing implicit stereotypes – in the context of Latino television characters. Specifically, we plan to conduct three studies that should advance the understanding about the range of ways different minority portrayals can affect attitudes towards, and stereotypes about, minorities. Study 1 will be a content analysis of network, cable, premium pay, and online streaming television shows to determine if, and how, they feature Latino characters. Study 2 will test our hypothesized model with a national survey. Study 3 will be a laboratory experiment in which undergraduate students view multiple sitcom episodes featuring either a stereotypical or counter stereotypical Latina. Ultimately, we hope that these studies will produce substantive findings that will help scholars, social activists, and media practitioners understand what types of minority portrayals can promote social justice, while raising awareness about how well-intentioned television characters can fail.

 

Grant Awarded ($9,192): Double Codes: Exploring Revolutionary Indigenous Communication in Bolivia

Principal Investigator: Ramesh Srinivasan, UCLA.

Digital technologies and the Internet have increasingly been interwoven into a range of policies and practices within the nation of Bolivia. This is notable because the ways in which technologies are ‘imagined’ within this nation, drawing on rich anthropological literature, diverge from this nation’s counterparts across the world. Indeed, technologies are being spoken about in Bolivia as fundamental to the ‘indigenous cause’, which is notable given that this nation’s population is approximately 65% indigenous, including head of State Evo Morales. Morales’s government has specifically stressed the role of media and technology in their efforts to support Bolivia’s indigenous peoples. These efforts have been part of the larger goal of constructing a ‘plurinational state’, or a state where cultural diversity in its deepest forms would be respected while also subsumed within the allegiance of the nation-state. This effort has been applauded by many, given that it is widely understood how important it is to support the lives of indigenous peoples, given their diverse traditions, languages and knowledge systems. Yet what does this mean in practice? What types of technological deployments are shaping the enactment of a pan-indigenous agenda, and is this indeed an oxymoron? Triangulating my ethnographic and interview-based data through analysis of technological engagements with Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani communities and across a series of projects ranging from free and open source software (FOSS), community radio, and indigenous media production, I attempt to explore how technologies are being enacted relative to the imaginaries coming from the State, and importantly, what types of actions may be taken to truly support indigenous peoples across the nation.

 

Grant Awarded ($7,431): Innovations in Worker Participation: Communicating for Healthy and Sustainable Food and Work 

Principal Investigator: Heather Zoller, University of Cincinnati.

This project will investigate two innovative organizations working towards safe work, improved wages, and environmentally sustainable and accessible food systems. From a communication perspective, the Equitable Food Initiative and the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative are significant because each relies on new methods of worker participation to create social change. The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), launched by Oxfam in collaboration with Costco, the United Farm Workers, and other groups, created an innovative independent monitoring and certification program for agricultural growers. The program is unique in simultaneously addressing consumer and retailer food safety needs, worker safety and income, and environmental improvements for the public. Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative (CUCI), a workplace cooperative incubator, is at the vanguard of a hybrid organizational form – a worker cooperative based on the Mondragon Cooperative in Spain and a worker-represented union. Organizational leaders have studied extensively with Mondragon Cooperative representatives and are now part of the Mondragon USA Union Co-Op Federation. Using qualitative participant observation and interviewing, the goal of this proposed study is to investigate the potential of these initiatives to transform our theories and models of communication and organizational participation, produce broader social changes in our food system, and to act as models for changing broader discourses of social justice and organizational sustainability. This project integrates several lines of communication and interdisciplinary research in health and organizational communication, occupational health and safety, corporate social responsibility and food studies. Outputs from the study include at least four journal articles and two book chapters, reports for the participating organizations, presentations to scholars, businesses and non-profits interested in certification programs and worker participation and ownership, as well as potential media coverage. 

 

2016-2017 WFI Funded Projects
(listed in alphabetical order)

Grant Awarded ($9,658.94): Beyond Fear: Examining the Influence of Hope, Happiness, Sadness and Guilt on Climate Change Communication and Action
Principal Investigator: Lucy Atkinson, University of Texas at Austin.

Global warming is an inherently emotional issue. From photos of forlorn polar bears on shrinking ice caps to alarmist predictions of cities disappearing under rising sea levels, the images and stories associated with global warming elicit a range of emotional responses. For Americans, these emotions run the gamut and include disgust, hope, anger, sadness and anxiety, among others. These emotional responses, in turn, influence how Americans think about global warming, its causes, potential solutions and ways of enacting social change. And yet the role of emotions is poorly understood. The focus has been almost exclusively on negative emotional responses, specifically fear-based ones, which often lead to boomerang effects including denial and paralysis of action. The narrow empirical focus on fear means other emotions have largely been relegated to the sidelines. Missing from the literature is a comprehensive look at not only how non-fear based negative emotions, like sadness and guilt, influence attitudes and behaviors related to climate change, but the role positive emotions, like hope and happiness, might play in understanding and mitigating the effects of global warming. The study proposed here seeks to fill this gap. Relying on an experimental design the study is motivated by two overarching questions: 1) How do discrete negative emotions (fear, sadness and guilt) and discrete positive emotions (hope and happiness) differentially influence global warming related outcomes, including perceptions of risk, information processing, policy preferences, willingness to make lifestyle changes to reduce one’s carbon footprint, and skepticism in global warming? 2) How do these discrete emotions moderate the framing effects of public communication campaigns when information about global warming is presented either thematically or episodically? This study focuses on climate change as an issue of social justice and human rights, and explores how communication campaigns can most effectively mobilize individuals to bring about social change.

 

Grant Awarded ($7025): Celebrity Disclosures of Mental Illness: The Role of Media Figures in Reducing Mental Illness Stigma
Principal Investigator: Cynthia A. Hoffner, Georgia State University.

Research documents that media portrayals of mental illness are often negative and inaccurate, and contribute to public stigma. But mediated communication also has potential to combat stigma, for example through fictional portrayals that challenge stereotypes or via communication campaigns featuring celebrities with mental health problems. However, much less is known about the potential positive impact of media portrayals of mental illness or the mechanisms through which such influences may occur. Contact is among the best ways to reduce stigma. The parasocial contact hypothesis contends that positive mediated contact, especially via parasocial relationships, can lower group stigma. Recently, many well-known individuals have revealed mental illness, under varying circumstances. Celebrities have unique potential to reach audiences and alter conceptions of mental illness. But little is known about the impact of these disclosures on public stigma of mental illness. Mediated encounters with celebrities who are revealed to be dealing with mental problems, especially those with whom people already have a parasocial bond, could lead to more favorable group attitudes and a reduction in public stigma. Even the belief that such disclosures by celebrities have lowered stigma may have beneficial consequences, according the influence of presumed media influence model. The proposed research involves both a survey (assessing respondents’ exposure and responses to celebrity disclosures of mental illness) and an experiment (varying the framing of celebrity disclosures) to explore how and in what ways exposure to celebrity disclosures of mental illness can reduce mental illness stigma.

 

Grant Awarded ($10,000): “Deliberative Imagination”: Visualizing a Common Citizenship in Palestine/Israel
Principal Investigator: Norma Musih, Indiana University.

How can we imagine a common citizenship for Palestinians and Israelis? Using historical photographs as well as photographs created by activist and journalists, I re-activate the Aristotelian concept of “deliberative imagination”- the capacity to produce and compare different images with one another – to explore a visual rhetorical history of place.i With an understanding of the past as continually shaping the present, my research asks how photography can enact the required tools to make an ethical judgement. Likewise, I investigate how photography can open new possibilities for a citizenship that challenges the separations imposed by the nation state, and thereby help us imagine alternative communities of belonging. This study offers visual rhetoricians a new approach to the study intersection of photography and citizenship. Instead of asking what we see in the photographs, this study pushes us to ask what can we imagine in the photographs and how the photographs work as part of a public imaginary. As such, this project also offers local activists, journalists and artists with an opportunity to evaluate the way the photographs they produce communicate an ethical alternative to the current political situation or reinscribe ideologies and symbolic barriers.

 

Grant Awarded ($3,497.50): I Had My Baby in Brooklyn: Chinese Diasporic Gender Identities and Belonging in Lived Experiences of Transnational Maternity
Principal Investigator: Lili Shi, The City University of New York – Kingsborough.

This book project is a cultural studies treatment of Chinese diasporic gender identity negotiations in transnational maternity experiences of women living in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown. Based on my ethnographic research living by the neighborhood from 2010-2013 while I prepared and experienced my own maternity, I argue that experiencing maternity in this “new global neighborhood” (Hum, 2014) is a significant political and transnational gendering moment, in which ethno-medical and ethno-cultural differences of birthing and care are deeply connected with global identifications of race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation. Picking and choosing what to experience and what not to experience during maternity -- as well as one’s structural limitations towards those choices — are a journey in which a woman immigrant negotiates her Chinese-ness, American-ness, diasporic-ness and cultural belonging. By pointing out that the “Chinese-ness” and “diasporic-ness” that inform public imagination of Chinatowns and New York City’s political discourse of diversity have been taken for granted, that the generational, regional, linguistic, and class differences coupled with global cultural transnationalism have made “Chinatown” and “diaspora” contesting spaces for identity, my project demystifies assumed diaspora solidarity and exemplifies WFI’s social justice mission by speaking for the others within the othered in popular discourses of urbanity, modernity, and diversity.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): Spectacular Nationalism of Contemporary India  
Principal Investigator: Raka Shome, Visiting Senior Fellow, National University of Singapore.

This proposed research project seeks to examine contemporary nationalism in India. Since the early 2000s, and more specifically in the last few years under the Modi government, India is being rebranded in an aggressive way for the national and the global community. An impetus behind this is to present India as a globally market friendly hub, that is efficient, forward looking, creative, entrepreneurial and yet an exciting place of traditions and culture. I argue that a “spectacular nationalism” is evident in contemporary India that presents India as an exceptional place that promises an exciting future for the world. I seek to theorize the notion of ‘spectacular nationalism’ as opposed to just nationalism as spectacle. I also attempt to illuminate how the seductions of contemporary spectacular nationalism in India are shoring up and legitimizing a Hindu ideological climate that is increasingly intolerant of, and violent towards, Muslims in India. The project will analyze spectacular nationalism through a focus on various public media campaigns, the self created image and conscious fashion style of Prime Minister Modi, and interviews with advertising agencies and creative directors who are producing various campaigns to present India as a spectacular place.  

 

Grant Awarded ($5,195): Censorship versus Surveillance: Effective Means of Communication Control
Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Stoycheff, Wayne State University.

In an era of big data and information control, which poses a greater threat to democratic development and sustainability: online censorship or mass surveillance? The U.S. has waged a decades-long war against the pre- publication censorship practices in non-democracies, like China, Russia, and Iran. But the U.S.’s mass surveillance programs similarly have the potential to chill democracy through a pervasive culture of self-censorship, inhibiting citizens’ willingness to communicate their political beliefs online. The proposed project seeks to explore how surveillance and censorship compare on two fronts. First, it analyzes publicly available opinion/behavioral data to assess whether citizens in countries with heavily surveilled media environments have the same apprehension about communicating online as citizens in heavily censored media environments. And second, it undertakes an original, cross-national data collection to experimentally explore how framing and justifications of both censorship and surveillance programs can lead citizens to demand freer, more transparent information environments. This will be the first empirical research to contrast the effects of mass surveillance programs with those of traditional censorship tactics and offer concrete solutions for preserving Internet freedom worldwide.

 

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Beyond Chiraq: A Communication Infrastructure Approach to Local Hip-Hop Culture for Social Change in Chicago
Principal Investigator: George Villanueva, Loyola University Chicago.

Through a communication lens, this proposal seeks to research Chicago’s local hip-hop culture’s promotion of social change and advocacy to end the current epidemic of violence that predominantly affects the African American and Latino under-resourced communities in the south and west sides. Inflamed by the popular media’s use of the war-zone metaphor ‘Chiraq’ to describe the real acts of violence caused by socioeconomic determinants, there remains a lack of on-the-ground investigations that examine community responses to violence. A paucity of studies particularly exists when it comes to understanding how local communities harness hip-hop culture to promote social change instead of glorifying violence. Through community research informed by ‘communication infrastructure theory’—a place-based and social ecological theory that posits local community is constructed through local storytelling—this proposal outlines a study of how different community actors perceive local hip-hop culture’s role in promoting social change and advocating against violence. A more nuanced understanding of local community responses to violence through local hip-hop culture can provide a more innovative and solutions-oriented window into how to curb Chicago’s current epidemic of violence.

 

Grant Awarded ($9,654): LGBT Media Advocacy in Vietnam
Principal Investigators: Jason Zingsheim, Governors State University; Dustin Bradley Goltz, DePaul University; Alexandra G. Murphy, DePaul University; Teresa Mastin, Feinberg School of Medicine.

This community-based research study will provide support and training for members of Vietnam’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community to engage in media advocacy. This project involves an international collaboration between Communication faculty in the U.S. and the staff of a non-profit, community service organization based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. LGBT members will learn how the media operate and optimal ways to gain maximum attention from Vietnamese society-at-large, particularly on LGBT-related issues. Using strategies grounded in communication theory and practice, such as framing and personal narrative, participants will develop skills for engaging with media professionals to promote social justice. Upon completion of the media advocacy workshops, qualitative data will be analyzed to better understand how Vietnamese LGBT community members discursively construct sexual and gender minority subjectivities, as well as the dominant discourses that marginalize LGBT citizens.


2017-2018 WFI Funded Projects

(listed in alphabetical order)

 

Grant Awarded ($9,000): Transgender Women, Sex Work, and Narratives on HIV and Health

Principal Investigator: Ambar Basu, University of South Florida.

This project proposes to document narratives on health and HIV and AIDS of transgender women sex workers. It brings together theoretical ideas related to erasures of marginalized voices in prevalent and dominant patterns of health communication and the importance of positionality even as scholars attempt to interrogate and mitigate these erasures. The goal of this project is to put forth stories on how transgender women sex workers, who are considered at very high risk of HIV and AIDS, and concurrently face violence, discrimination, and inadequate access to housing and medical care, make meanings on health and illness. In doing so, this project advances a call for re-centering health discourse and related public health programs aimed at at-risk HIV and AIDS communities, particularly at a time when governmental policies in the United States are increasingly bearing down on basic human rights related to living non-heteronormative, non-cis gender lives. Postcolonial theory and critical ethnography as interconnected modes of theory and method inform the mapping and execution of this project. 

 

Grant Awarded ($9,204): Communicating Food Waste Reduction as Social Justice and Sustainability: A Systemic and Critical Cultural Analysis of Food Recovery and Diversion Efforts in the US and Italy

Principal Investigator: Leda Cooks, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

This study places emphasis on communication as the primary social process through which personal, cultural and structural meanings for food and waste are made, and poses critical questions that connect the symbolic and material dimensions of food waste to efforts at its reduction. This research complicates the current studies on food justice, food insecurity and food recovery to better address the social and political assumptions about culture and capital that influence food producer, distributor and food recovery programs’ interest in and resistance to reducing food waste. The proposed project considers the narratives of various situated actors in the system in conversation with each other.  Using a communication ecology approach, combined with Appadurai's (1990) interrelational framework of global flows (scales), this study draws critical attention to relationships in the ways food waste recovery counts and is counted. Through critical ethnography (Madison, 2005) and interviews, as well as secondary survey, social media and website analysis, the study examines how food is differentiated from waste and efforts made at its reduction and recovery by five networks of food producers, distributors and food waste recovery agencies in rural and urban areas of the US and Italy. Since collective food recovery efforts are organizational and communal in nature, the research works to trace the networks and narratives that categorize food and waste for purposes of reduction and recovery. These narratives, along with ethnographic, website and other secondary data collection, comprise the various techno-, media-, ethno-, ideo-, and finance- scapes that make up the global cultural economies (Appadurai, 1990) that shape the food/waste “problem” and policy solutions on offer. This critical and qualitative study asks first how food/waste recovery is communicated as practice and relationships in order to then better understand where and why food waste reduction has taken the shape of problem, profit and social justice in the global cultural economy. Results are particular to the areas (Northeastern and Midwest US and Central Italy) in which the study takes place: meanings for food, waste, hunger and sustainability will be located in their unique geographical, political and cultural context.

 

Grant Awarded ($11,527): The Influence of Supportive Messages on Health Recovery for LGBQ Victims of Hate Speech: Investigating Interpersonal Communication as a Site for Social Change

Principal Investigators: Amanda Denes, University of Connecticut (PI), & John P. Crowley, University of Washington.

Previous research has identified substantial health disparities in sexual orientation minority communities. Discrimination is considered a leading cause of these health disparities. Social support is identified by prior research as protective in helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBQ) individuals buffer the negative health effects associated with discrimination; however, research has yet to investigate the actual supportive messages that procure such outcomes. Indeed, scholars have identified the importance of interventions to more fully understand the association between social support and LGBQ health. Given the links between discrimination, stress, and health, this project seeks to identify the conditions under which supportive messages increase LGBQ individuals’ resiliency to cope with the negative health effects associated with hate speech in three primary ways. First, it examines the effect of supportive messages communicated by close friends on salivary cortisol and salivary alpha amylase following exposure to a recall discussion task in which individuals remember an experience with hate speech. Second, it utilizes a longitudinal design to investigate the medium-term influence of supportive interactions on coping with discrimination by measuring individuals’ health-related behaviors (e.g., substance and alcohol abuse, smoking, risky sexual behaviors). Finally, because individuals’ connectedness to their social network provides a protective function against negative health behaviors/outcomes, the project seeks to determine the supportive interactions’ ability to bolster victims’ connection with their social network as well as their willingness to seek support from close ties in times of stress. Results will be presented to LGBQ resource centers and inform interventions that aim to build resiliency and foster social change within this marginalized community. 

 

Grant Awarded ($4,970): Nourishing the Margins: Rhetorics of Food, Race, and the Politics of Place

Principal Investigator: Constance Gordon, University of Colorado Boulder.

Unequal access to healthy, affordable food remains a significant problem across the United States, as it is estimated that 23.5 million Americans live in what are commonly referred to as “food deserts”. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as “part of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, found in impoverished areas” caused by “a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” Though the term helps underscore unequal distribution of food in and around areas where primarily low-income communities reside, food justice activists have recently become weary of the ways “food desert” is discursively deployed to legitimize practices that may, ultimately, further contribute to inequality rather than resolve it. To respond to the forces of green gentrification, urban greening, and food inequity, communities vulnerable to gentrification have taken up a range of discursive and performative practices to figure food production and food sharing in ways that do not lead to their displacement. The range of actions they take, from community gardening, food sharing with houseless peoples, securing land tenure, among others, are leveraged through a discursive articulation of “community-controlled ecology” or “popular development” to centralizing the need for communities to “be the ones they serve” instead. This research project will explore frames of food access, food apartheid, and the possibilities and constraints of different forms of food justice activism in three gentrifying U.S. American cities. This multi-sited ethnographic project seeks to understand the ways communities work to regain power and legitimacy through community-based popular development practices and community-controlled ecology, and in so doing, critically interrupt frames of food access and urban greening that exacerbate their vulnerability. Despite there being a necessity to engage in a range of food justice advocacy, across many cities it becomes clear that some forms of food production and distribution like urban greening are celebrated, while others like fence free gardens or food sharing with houseless people are discouraged, criminalized, and regulated. This project aims to understand where those differences lie and how communities organize against them to advocate for their right to grow, share, and consume food. In the process of exploring food access frames and food justice activism, I will also trace the ways food itself (or having lack thereof) becomes a mediator of power entangling itself with questions of property rights, development, homelessness, toxicity, and broader themes of environmental (in)justice.

 

Grant Awarded ($2,519): Negotiating Cultural Change in Africa: A Critical Analysis of Organizational Discourse in Ghana

Principal Investigator: Eric Karikari, University of New Mexico.

The National Communications Authority (NCA) is the state-sanctioned regulator and policy maker for Ghana’s media and telecommunications landscape. This includes that fact that it is the organization in charge of providing licenses and authorization for all media operators in the country. The current study, positioned at the intersection of critical organizational communication, media studies, and postcolonial studies, uses a Critical Discourse Analysis of policy documents and interviews to examine how organizational culture is constituted at the NCA in Ghana. Specifically, I explore how neoliberal ideologies seep into common sense notions of ‘organizing’ in the workplace through various discursive forms. I then draw on those discursive forms to explicate how colonial legacies and contemporary neoliberal globalization constitute a historical continuum of imperialism that presents a unique set of structural limitations for the people of formerly-colonized developing countries. From the vantage point of communication studies, I analyze the influence of neoliberalism through the discursive means by which employees negotiate identities, and in turn contribute to organizational cultures. Through the analysis of the organization’s main policy documents, I also examine the neoliberal impulses that influence Ghana’s media and communications landscape through the work of the NCA. This is not only to ‘measure’ the extent to which globalized media discourses influence the NCA but also to expatiate the degree to which the organization appropriates localized discourses about media and communications. I look at discourses about organizational norms, values, beliefs, and practices to see if and how individual agency is constrained by a wider frame of structural possibilities – in this case neoliberal policies. Using a communication lens enables me to center organizational discourses – talk and text – as essential components of culture. The study operates under the assumption that organizational discourses are cultural because they carry the cultural meanings that enable communication and social interaction. The project seeks to reveal the ways in which neoliberal management policies in a formerly-colonized African country perpetuate subtle forms of oppression, but also to show how individuals exert their agency in negotiating organizational life. Consequently, the study contributes to research that argue that communication has the power to bring tangible social change through individuals’ creative engagement with both globalized and localized discourses despite the structural limitations. This project thus seeks to potentially trigger a rethink of some dominant theories of management and organizational communication by centering the experiences of people from formerly-colonized African countries in conversations about organizational/corporate cultural identity.

 

Grant Awarded ($9,000): Social Media and Social Change: A Multilevel Approach

Principal Investigator: Hyunjin Seo, University of Kansas.

Widespread availability of the global Internet has substantially influenced the structure and content of communication. In particular, the growth of relatively inexpensive digital collaborative networks has accelerated the organization of movements directed towards social change. The research objective of this project is two-fold. First, the investigator aims to empirically test a multilevel model of network facilitation for social change that identifies mechanisms and predicts outcomes of interactions at the socio-political, networked-space, and network-infrastructure levels. In doing so, the investigator considers both structural (the architecture of connectedness) and behavioral (social manifestations) aspects of network-facilitated movements. Second, the investigator proposes to develop algorithms for analyzing social media content generated during movements and identifying influencers who can affect mobilization in times of social unrest. In doing so, the investigator will integrate theoretical and methodological frameworks from both social science and computer science based on her experience of working on interdisciplinary research projects involving the two disciplines. Empirical data for the Waterhouse Family Institute (WFI) project will come from social media content and network infrastructure information from South Korea and Hong Kong, which will be triangulated with interviews with movement organizers in the two countries. This WFI project constitutes an important portion of a larger effort that will ultimately analyze data from a dozen cases including South Korea, Hong Kong, and some Middle Eastern countries.

 

Grant Awarded ($5,644): Navigating Challenges to Humanitarian Efforts: A Case Study of a Volunteer-Based Refugee Resettlement Organization

Principal Investigators: Bobbi Van Gilder, Northeastern University (PI), & Jaqueline S. Bruscella, State University of New York, Oneonta.

One contemporary social issue that has received much media and public attention is the Syrian refugee crisis. Organizations and community groups have been working around the clock to aid refugees in their resettlements into the United States. However, with the enactment of the executive order passed on January 27, 2017 titled: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States (Office of the Press Secretary, 2017), many of these localized efforts have been strained, if not completely frozen. Using relational dialectics theory and structuration theory as guiding theoretical frameworks, the present study aims to highlight the ways in which communication is used to create social change within and outside of a volunteer-based organization that is striving to aid refugees while having to navigate new challenges associated with the Executive Order. Importantly, the present study focusses on refugee resettlement as a social justice issue, as supporting refugees saves lives. The researchers will conduct a case study investigation of one volunteer-based organization, Community Welcomes Refugees (CWR), which is a volunteer-run resettlement program located in the state of New York. This study will make valuable theoretical contributions as well as offer practical applications. Knowing that there are other local organizations working to support refugee resettlement initiatives, even in a time of such uncertainty, we hope to identity some “best practices” and to develop some practical guidelines that can aid other refugee resettlement organizations and community based groups to accomplish their social justice missions. 

 

Grant Awarded ($6,200): Decreasing Stigmatization of People with Intellectual Disabilities through Transformative Interactions

Principal Investigator: Kirsten Weber, Central Michigan University.

According to Special Olympics (2016), approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability. Worldwide that number increases to as many as 200 million people (Special Olympics, 2016). Many people living with an intellectual disability report that stigmatization is part of their everyday life. Given the frequency and problematic nature of discriminatory attitudes towards individuals with intellectual disabilities, opportunities to mitigate those negative perceptions are needed. Unified Sports® is a program within Special Olympics that brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams to play sports like basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, and flag football. Although the goal of Unified Sports® is to create a shared understanding among persons with and without intellectual disabilities, little research has been conducted to document attitude changes among the individuals without intellectual disabilities (who participate in the program) towards individuals with intellectual disabilities. By analyze the impact that involvement in Unified Sports® has on participating college students, we hope to clarify how the program can be used as a vehicle to develop more inclusive perceptions of people with intellectual disabilities. Specifically, this study aims to document that participates who take part in the program will develop more empathy, increase their use of inclusive communication, and reduce their stigmatization of people with intellectual disabilities.

* WFI_callforgrants_201718.pdf
Includes instructions for preparation of proposals, due date for proposals, and eligibility criteria
* WFI Report for Successful Applicants.pdf
For successful WFI Grant recipients: instructions for reporting on progress to the WFI Director
* WFI Grant Announcement-Promotion Guidelines.pdf
Communication guidelines for successful WFI grant applicants

In addition to sponsoring research grants, the WFI is pleased to be collaborating with the CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution and the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. Since 2011, our institutes have co-sponsored a Fellow Awards Program, recognizing outstanding communication scholars and/or practitioners for projects that demonstrate the power of communication to make better social worlds.

A Fellow is a distinguished scholar and/or practitioner who is recognized for:

  1. demonstrating a unique understanding of what it means to take and apply a “communication perspective” and
  2. finding creative and impactful ways of using a “communication perspective” to address real-world challenges.

The number and nature of these awards varies each year, and the three sponsoring institutes rotate as hosts for the awards ceremony.

The application deadline and instructions for each year's Fellow awards will be announced in summer/fall. Check the CMM Institute's homepage for announcements regarding the call for applications.

Our grant program was founded on the belief that Communication scholars' work can play a leading role in the creation of social change.

WFI Research Grants have resulted in significant journal articles and book publications--as well as impact on the lives of people living in communities across the US and the globe. For example, a WFI Research Grant awarded to Dr. Spoma Jovanovich played a key role in the city of Greensboro, NC, allocating $500,000 for participatory budgeting.