The Waterhouse Family Institute funds innovative research projects by scholars and doctoral students across the world to support the important and complex study of communication and social change.

Since 2010, the Waterhouse Family Institute has awarded more than $900,000 in grants, supporting over 100 communication scholars around the world engaging complex questions of justice and injustice. These projects have not only resulted in presentations, publications and significant public events, but have made important contributions to communities across the globe.

Grant Criteria

Although we do not limit our grants to a specific methodological orientation or sub-disciplinary focus, all WFI-supported projects have two things in common: they make communication the primary focus, and they engage communication in terms of its impact on the world around us and 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.

Call for Applications
Each year, the deadline for grant applications is 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.

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

Specific instructions for preparation of grant applications can be found by clicking the link to our application below.


2022 – 2023 WFI Research Grants

We are delighted to announce the recipients of the 2022-23 WFI Research Grants!

Sustainable and Just? Examining Communication Practices Around Sustainable Consumption and Environmental Justice among Lower-Income Consumers(Award: $9,951)
Principal Investigator: Lucy Atkinson
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Na Yu and Joshua Anderson, University of Texas at Austin

Despite an increasing focus on sustainability communication, especially pertaining to consumer products, there is a sizeable consumer base that is largely left out of many sustainability campaigns: lower-income individuals. Not much work has been done to examine lower-income individuals’ authentic experiences with sustainable products and their associated advertising; even less is known about a scarcity mindset might influence consumer attitudes and behaviors. This raises important practical and ethical questions about the communicative world of sustainable products created by advertising and public relations professionals. To better understand this important population, we propose a mixed-methods research program. After analyzing the data obtained from these studies, we will conduct a public outreach campaign in partnership with the Office of Sustainability at the University of Texas at Austin. This work will provide insights into the landscape and potential of sustainability communication to low-income individuals, how this communication landscape may be viewed with respect to environmental justice and put these insights into practice. Previous work has yet to address the ethics of the imagined – that is, constructed through communicative practices – worlds of sustainable marketing for lower-income individuals. While sustainable products are seen as a necessary component of the fight against climate change, the communication surrounding these products has outstanding ethical questions involving environmental justice. This applies to the pressure put on lower-income consumers for products that might be unattainable, for reasons of cost or access, as well as for products that are attainable but might seem out of reach because of beliefs that sustainable products cost more and do not help save money. In these cases, lower-income individuals may experience negative emotional or monetary consequences as a result of how sustainable products are communicated. This study will explore these ethical considerations at a level of depth not yet explored in previous literature.

Communication Influences on Black Women’s Pregnancy Risk Perceptions and Related Behavioral Responses (Award: $4,300)
Principal Investigator: Marifran Mattson
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Tiwaladeoluwa Adekunle, Purdue University

Communication with healthcare providers constitute an important source of information and support for women during pregnancy, however, various studies have found that not only do Black women consider their pregnancies to be less valued in society, but they are also more likely to experience communication difficulties with healthcare providers than women of other races. These difficulties are consequential because they negatively impact the health and wellbeing of Black women and their infants. Although many studies have established that Black women face disproportionate risks in pregnancy, few studies have probed Black women’s own definitions of first, risk and second, empowerment in interactions with the healthcare providers. To foreground Black women’s voices, this study first takes on a Black Feminist Theoretical lens, using a multi-pronged approach to qualitatively explore Black women’s communicative experiences with healthcare providers in order to first, understand the role of patient-provider communication on their pregnancy risk perceptions and behaviors and second, derive guidelines for empowering communication between healthcare providers and Black women that are based on the voices of Black women themselves. This multi-pronged approach draws on in-depth interviews, Qualitative Network Analysis, and an environmental scan as venues of meaning on Black women’s experiences, allowing for a deep, contextualized understanding of Black women’s communicative experiences and its role on their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their infants. Thus, this study uses a communicative approach to contribute to the transformation of Black women’s pregnancy experiences of pregnancy in the United States.

Locating A Third Option in the Anglophone Cameroon Crisis: A Case for Alternative Collaborative Practices (Award: $8,500.00)
Principal Investigator: Blessed Ngoe, University of Colorado at Boulder

How do locals perceive the communicative accomplishment of collaboration in conflict contexts, and why may they engage in it? How do collaborative practices, through dialogic moments, occur in spaces of invisibility? Who or what wields the power to orchestrate, navigate, and evaluate collaborative practices in complex cultural contexts? This study proposes to investigate collaboration as the location of a third option to anticipate locally meaningful solutions to the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon (ACC). The ongoing Anglophone Cameroon Crisis, a largely understudied and misunderstood bloody conflict, provides a site for understanding how everyday citizens communicatively use visible and invisible collaborative practices to organize around context-specific solutions towards emergent communal needs such education. Using a critical ethnographic approach, I argue that context-specific communicative practices of collaboration offer a window into culturally relevant understandings and management of everyday life during violent crises. The study relies on rigorous field methods to describe, interpret, and evaluate collaborative practices within the Oroko ethnic group in the context of the ACC to 1) formulate a theoretical understanding of the nature and conduct of collaboration as an alternative organizational mechanism to develop solutions around emergent needs, 2) locate the relational complexities that characterize the practice in situ by bringing to the fore locally meaningful understandings of what constitutes the practice as well as who or what holds the power to will it, and 3) work with communities to identify, formulate, design, and implement context-specific, community-led models of doing collaborative work in times of crisis. The project, it is hoped, will push our understanding of collaboration as an organizational and communicative mechanism and practice which value extends beyond current understandings of organizational interaction and collaboration as bounded by time, place, or cultural and structural constraints.

Identity Management Online in Enterprise Social Media Among Black Professionals (Award: $8,223.93)
Principal Investigator: Christine Nyawaga, Wayne State University,

In this qualitative project—consisting of 35 interviews with Black professionals in industries where they are underrepresented, such as finance, science, technology, engineering, or mathematics—I seek to explore what contributes to identity management in online spaces for Black professionals and how this unfolds in practice in enterprise social media platforms given the unique circumstances of online contexts. I focus on underrepresented fields since their minoritized identities become salient in such spaces, increasing the likelihood of identity management. This project is attentive to two specific antecedents of social identity management—professional expectations and technological affordances—and how these antecedents result in specific career outcomes such as meaningful work. The project will also examine what informs the social identity management tactic used online and how specific tactics (counterfeiting, avoidance, integration) result in specific impacts on meaningful work. The audiences for this project are Black professionals and the broader Black community whose issues as well as a study sample have mainly been treated as marginal in scholarship. I hope to amplify their voices and issues through this work. The second audience for this project is scholars who, through engaging this work, will be motivated to explore more marginal issues, minoritized individuals, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in their intellectual pursuits. The final audience is organizations who can gain insights from this work to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion for their minoritized employees. I also consider organizations in the technology space in this category who could use findings from this project to design more inclusive technology products or platforms for their clients.

Beyond Strawmen: Plastic Pollution, Impure Politics, and Networked Cultures of Care (Award: $10,000)
Principal Investigator: Phaedra Pezzullo, University of Colorado at Boulder

Plastics have become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and plastic pollution harms human and nonhuman bodies from extraction to disposal—though not everyone equally. While many in the Global South and Global South of the North began articulating a plastic crisis and passing national single-use plastic bans since the beginning of the new millennium, related US bans were not enacted until more recently and with great backlash. With the upcoming Global Plastics Treaty coming in 2024, it is time to move beyond everyone’s “hot take” or straw man fallacies about plastics online to consider how we came to this conjuncture. Beyond Strawmen (University of California Press, forthcoming 2023) illustrates how plastics have become articulators of not only the health and climate impacts of plastics, but also of broader cultural crises—including corporate greenwashing, carceral environmental policies, American Exceptionalism, eco-ableism, climate fatalism, and censorship—to care for intersectional climate justice movements, marine life conservation, disability justice, and human rights. The book is part of a larger research agenda to study and to foster public engagement about plastics. A key component of this praxis is the author’s podcast, Communicating Care, which listens more deeply to people who have made headlines for making a difference to learn from their insights for successful creative climate communication and behavior change. Sharing interviews as podcasts helps create greater transparency in fieldwork practices and reaches a wider audience with more content. Ideally, podcasts as a tool of fieldwork might increase researchers’ abilities to amplify voices less heard in mainstream education and media, as well as to bridge communicative divides between published research and wider publics. In addition, the book launch will include a website to provide supplementary digital resources for advocates and educators to increase public engagement on plastics and related crises addressed in the book. Season 1 was launched in Spring 2022, helping serve as a basis for the book, and Season 2 will focus more on labor, human rights, and dignity as they relate to plastic waste pickers and workers. In Fall 2023, a toxic tour will be hosted to showcase policy solutions to the plastics crisis, as well as the role of labor. The primary stop will be Eco-Cycle, a premier plastics recycling center where I live in Boulder, Colorado. Images and, if given permission, audio files from this tour will be made available to help illustrate how educators and advocates can engage plastics recycling, waste, and reduction in their backyards.

Disruption, Resilience, and Change: Lessons of Asian American Nonprofit Organizing During COVID-19 Pandemic (Award $5,450)
Principal Investigator: Evgeniya Pyatovskaya
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Patrice Buzzanell, University of South Florida

This project proposes to distill and document the transformational experience of a New York-based Asian American nonprofit organization - Apex for Youth - that operated during the first year of COVID-19 to learn about its resilience strategies. It brings together theoretical perspectives on resilience and nonprofit organizing and the importance of studying nonprofit organizations from a communication perspective. The project aims to identify stressors that Apex for Youth has experienced due to the pandemic, and their interconnections, describe how this nonprofit engaged communicatively with its internal and external stakeholders to reintegrate during and after stressors, and, finally, bring to light specific aspects of nonprofit organizing that prompt (dis)functional re/integrations. In doing so the project is likely to respond to a call for communication discipline to engage in more research and theorizing of the non-profit sector from a communication perspective and for communication scholars to be more helpful to nonprofit practitioners by focusing on issues that are important to the latter.

Rhetorics of Exile: Proletarian Cartographies of Struggle During the Cold War Era (Award: $9,900)
Principal Investigator: Kate Siegfried, Mercer University,

In this book project, I analyze exile as a communicative condition through the analysis of rhetorical artifacts produced by exiled political leaders and groups during the Cold War era. I explore the rhetorical affordances of political exile and examine rhetorics of exile as situated in an internationally oriented political struggle against racism, imperialism, and colonialism. Utilizing a black geographic approach to rhetorical cartography, I analyze the rhetorics of exiled political leaders and groups, including the African National Congress, South African Communist Party, Irish Republican Army, and American Civil Rights and Black Power activists. Though exile was fundamentally repressive, exiled political leaders and groups leveraged their exilic condition, especially the places they spent their exile, as material and rhetorical resources to engage in political action. In so doing, these exiled political leaders and groups mapped proletarian rhetorical cartographies of struggle, a unique and emergent power map premised on the eradication of colonialism, imperialism, and racial-capitalism. Political leaders and groups in exile depended on the recognition of foreign states to safely navigate the exilic condition imposed on them by imperialism, colonization, and racialization. As such, their specific movements across the globe also charted the recognition of their legitimate status as leaders while simultaneously affirming the national identity and claims to citizenship of racialized and colonized people globally. The rhetorical mapping of proletarian rhetorical cartographies of struggle charts the boundaries of the possibility for emancipation writ large during the Cold War era. By attending to globally oriented political struggle in contexts of extreme containment, I offer insight into the role of communication in the fight for a more just world, even when faced with profound repression. Through this book, I expand understandings not only of Cold War era social movement rhetoric, but also exile writ large and its constitutive and communicative role in global politics.

Racial Apology and the Rhetoric of American Psychiatry (Award: $3,151.49)
Principal Investigator: Davi Thornton, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

This project endeavors a rhetorical genealogy of American psychiatry’s recurring expressions of remorse for racism. This rhetorical genealogy will identify and trace patterns in American Psychiatric Association discourses that address the problem of racism, from 1960 through the present. While many scholars draw attention to the ways that black suffering has been denied, ignored, or otherwise diminished, this study both draws from and contributes to scholarship that attends to the ways in which recurrent representations of black pain circulate as a crucial mechanism for generating both racial difference and white supremacy. This project contributes to understanding of ethical communication more broadly, and especially in rhetorical contexts of health, science, and medicine. This project also brings new insight to longstanding questions about the functions and effects of corporate or collective apologies, particularly with regard to race and racism. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) joined countless other organizations by publishing an apology for its history of silence and inaction in the face of structural racism (“APA Apologizes”). Yet, the APA’s condemnation of its own silence glosses, and in some cases entirely erases, its history of copious speech on issues of race and racism. For instance, the APA has issued formal position statements condemning racism on multiple occasions, and by its own accounts, boasts decades of anti-racism initiatives that commit psychiatry to ameliorating racial prejudice and discrimination. Thus, American psychiatry’s apology for racism presents something of a paradox. Psychiatry frames the present as a singular interval of awareness and new beginning; yet, this “singular interval” recurs as a persistent feature of psychiatric discourse. This project addresses this seeming paradox through a rhetorical genealogy of American psychiatry’s public health dolorologies, drawing on Simon Strick’s conception of dolorology as a species of rhetoric characterized by the “strategic mobilization of pain” through racially differentiated (and differentiating) tropes of suffering and liberation. Specifically, I investigate psychiatry’s dolorologies as a rhetorical dynamic that recurrently deploys images of black suffering to incite speech that ceaselessly reorients and revivifies psychiatry’s biopolitical project.

Beyond #StopAsianHate: Building Asian American Studies Programs in the South and the Public Role of Communication Scholarship (Award: $10,000)
Principal Investigator: George Villanueva, Texas A&M University

The rise in anti-Asian violence in the U.S. has brought about nationwide protests and reenergized the fight for implementing Asian American Studies (AAS) programs in universities. This research proposal seeks to examine the potential expansion of Asian American Studies to universities in the U.S. South given the increased demographics of Asian Diaspora migrating and immigrating to southern states. The project seeks to inquire into three interrelated questions: What are the strengths and weaknesses of AAS programs in the creation of racial accountability, awareness and appreciation?, What role has communication studies scholarship (communication science, rhetoric, media and information, and cultural studies) played in contributing to AAS?, How can these findings be applied to building Asian American Studies programs and curriculum in the South? To answer these questions, the project will expand “communication asset mapping” — an ecological method for analyzing potential spaces as mediums for building positive social change — to assessing the state of Asian American Studies in higher education, the role of communication scholarship, and university–community knowledge infrastructures that can potentially build a larger AAS presence in the South. To flush out perceptions of AAS impact on racial accountability, awareness, and appreciation, the project will also conduct interviews with multiple stakeholders evidenced from the communication asset mapping (AAS program faculty leads, communication faculty with Asian American research interest, students, and Asian American focused community organization workers and ethnic media producers in the South). Lastly, a public scholarship goal will be built into the project, in which a symposium on Asian American Studies, Communication, and the South will be produced. The symposium will consist of faculty, students, community organizations, and ethnic media producers identified from the research in order to create a university–community research partnership that will inform further discussions of building AAS programs across the South. In order to build the capacity of communication to contribute and shape the future of AAS, communication departments and faculty need to play a larger role in organizing for AAS programs in their universities.

Promote Social Capital for Ethnic Minority Employees: Examining Individual, Organizational and Technological Factors in the Dynamic Model of Social Identity and Networks(Award: $9,980)
Principal Investigator: Shan Xu, Texas Tech University; Additional
Investigator(s)/Researchers: Wenbo Li, Stony Brook University

Organizational racial inequities are inextricably linked to social injustices that continue to plague the nation; yet, successful efforts toward diversity and inclusion go beyond the headcounts of ethnic minority employees. They also entail building communication networks among employees of different ethnicities so that information, resources, and support can be shared among them. Building on the dynamic model of social identity and networks, we propose to use a three-wave longitudinal study with a national sample of ethnic minority employees and test individual, organizational, and technological factors that can promote network diversity and reduce marginalization in the workplace. Additionally, we will further examine how these factors contribute to ethnic minority employees’ identity formation over time. This fills a gap in communication research by exploring the dynamic, longitudinal patterns of ethnic identity and social networks, identifying multi-faceted factors that are effective in promoting organizational diversity, and emphasizing the role of communication affordances which have largely been neglected in extant scholarly research on network diversity. Results from this study will have the robust potential to impart significant practical importance as we aim to freely share this work with nonprofits supporting ethnic minority employees and organizations aiming to promote the well-being and upward mobility of ethnic minorities. Specifically, efforts will be put into the creation of freely distributed materials, including printable (e.g., pamphlets, white paper) and multimedia content (e.g., short videos, infographics, online seminars, and workshops), to provide strategies and practical insights for improving organizational network diversity and the roles of individual attitudes, organizational norms, and communication affordances. Our community partner organizations include the Alliance of Impact—an NGO supporting Chinese American communities, the Thomas Jay Harris Institute for Hispanic and International Communication, the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources, and others. Further, through the outreach offices of the PI’s and co-PI's universities, we will distribute our study results to organizations in Texas and New York areas. Together, these results will have great potential to impart significant practical implications as our community partners and other organizations utilize this information to foster a more diverse and inclusive work and social environment.

The Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society
Villanova University, Garey Hall
800 E. Lancaster Ave, Villanova, PA 19085-1699, USA

Bryan Crable, PhD, director

Wendy Eisenberg, administrative and program specialist