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WFI Research Projects

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.

2018-2019 WFI Funded Projects
(listed in alphabetical order)

Grant Awarded ($8,000): Policing Virtual Worlds: Community-Scripted Scenarios for Police Training
Principal Investigator: Christina Aushana, University of California, San Diego

This research project proposes to focus on interdisciplinary engagement with police interactions with virtual training simulations in a time of ever-increasing speculation and critique concerning such spectacles of police violence as they are played out on screens of every kind: from viral citizen-produced cell phone recordings of police interactions on the street to moments that unfold in front of dashboard-mounted police vehicle cameras. This project suggests that anthropological engagement with the virtual performances that are programmed into police training simulations is not only missing from academic conversations about police violence, but presents an opportunity to approach conversations about use of force in the police academy and in the community through the language and methods of performance and theater. While social science researchers have turned their attention to the increasing role body-worn cameras play in adjudicating cases of questionable use of force, few anthropological studies have examined how current academy training strategies and technologies may be affecting officer response and decision-making in the field. Departing from routinized inscriptions of recording devices and their place in law enforcement, this study foregrounds the political stakes for an anthropology of policing that must attend to racialized police violence as a structural problem of current police training and the kinds of technologies that may be subjecting communities of color to more violent modes and methods of policing, including the use of virtual training simulators. This project places emphasis on the interactions with the visual and performance structures of police training simulators to make sense of what happens “in the field” and on the streets during patrol work long after recruits have left the academy.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Asylum Stories: Narrative and Ethics in the Search for Legal Protection
Principal Investigator: Sarah Bishop, Baruch College

This project critically analyzes the role of storytelling in the asylum process in the United States to elucidate how stories enable and restrain asylum seekers in their efforts to establish themselves as deserving of protection from the U.S. government. The goal of this work is to enfranchise the currently underrepresented voices of asylum seekers and gain firsthand insights into their communicative encounters with the U.S. immigration system that determines their futures. When asylum seekers are deemed to be victims of persecution and are successful in their applications for protection, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants them refugee status, which includes work authorization, a social security card, and a path to citizenship. But more than half of all applications for asylum are denied every year; for these individuals, legal protections are terminated and removal proceedings ensue. Unsuccessful applicants become undocumented—subject to the punishment of U.S. law but without rights to the law’s protections. Since these unsuccessful applicants may face detention or deportation, much hinges on the ability to effectively tell one’s story to immigration officials during an official asylum interview. The process that determines an applicant’s outcome depends on the power of effective communication and strategic storytelling that advances what Wooley calls “an idealized version of refugeehood.” Drawing from archival records of asylum hearings, analysis of the asylum application guidelines and preparatory resources, and interviews with successful and unsuccessful asylum applicants in New York, this project will advance understanding regarding the facility and limitations of strategic storytelling and address the existing opacity of the asylum seeking process.

Grant Awarded ($9,000): Milk Delivery: The Queer Newspaper Columns of Harvey Milk
Principal Investigators: Jason Black, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, & Charles Morris, Syracuse University

This research project seeks to complete a critically annotated anthology of the full run of late LGBTQ activist Harvey Milk’s serialized biweekly column for the most influential San Francisco LGBTQ paper of the 1970s, the Bay Area Reporter. Milk’s column, “Milk Forum,” appeared in the Bay Area Reporter from May 15, 1974 until November 22, 1978, the week before his assassination (109 columns total). Except for a handful of these columns, which is included in this project’s first published book, An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings (University of California Press, 2013), the bulk remainder of them have not circulated since they were published in the 1970s. The goal of this study is to present Milk’s words to the world in a concisely-constructed and publicly-accessible volume. This project promotes social justice by spotlighting the voice and agency of one of the nation’s most known LGBTQ icons whose extant work, oddly, is not widely available.

Grant Awarded ($5,000): A Spiral of Advocacy: The Gun Reform Policy Narratives of Social Movement Organizations
Principal Investigator: Melissa Dodd, University of Central Florida

Recent years have witnessed some of the deadliest mass shootings in history, bringing gun policy to the forefront of the media and American public’s agenda. In the wake of mass shootings, gun- control advocacy organizations, such as Everytown for Gun Safety and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, have attempted to subdue the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful gun-rights lobby in the U.S., only to see each of these moments pass unsuccessfully. However, social movement organizations (SMOs) have recently found themselves an unlikely, but powerful partner: corporate America. Today, in the wake of the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and resultant rise of the Never Again Movement, dozens of major corporations (e.g., MetLife, United Airlines, Symantec, Wyndham Hotels, etc.) have cut ties with the NRA. Nothing like this has happened since Columbine, Sandy Hook, or any other mass shooting in U.S. history. As a result of decades of failure of the U.S. government to pass federal gun reform policy, arguments about the role of business in gun control have emerged. Wall Street financial institutions have taken to divesting investments in gun manufacturers or exploring ways to remove gun companies from the portfolios of clients who do not wish to invest in them. Scholars have begun to explore the role of the politicized corporation, born of an era of shifting societal expectations about the role of business and government in society. Whereas traditionally, the public targeted government to legislate business; today, the public increasingly targets business to influence government and policy. The goal of this research is an in-depth exploration of the narrative communication and outreach strategies employed by SMOs for gun policy reform during a time of shifting power and expectations about the roles of business and government in society. This study advances a call for understanding discourses of the modern advocacy/grassroots-legislative-business dynamic and its impact on American democracy. It will identify the narrative communication and outreach strategies applied to key stakeholder groups as part of a larger spiral of advocacy. This study will explore how SMOs can most effectively use narratives to bring about gun policy reform in the modern democratic landscape.

Dissertation Grant Awarded ($1,000): The Technological Imaginaries of Social Movements: The Discursive Dimension of Communication Technology and the Fight for Social Change
Principal Investigator: Elisabetta Ferrari, University of Pennsylvania

Activists all over the world are increasingly relying on digital communication technologies in their fight for social change. While digital technologies have often been promoted by mainstream media and Silicon Valley enthusiasts as enablers of protest and change, activists have raised concerns related to the effectiveness of such digital tools, as well as their potential for surveillance and profiling, such as in the recent outcry over Facebook’s operations. How activists use technologies thus depends on how they think about technology and its role in social change. Looking at the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other examples of digitally mediated activism, the literature on activism and media has analyzed how social movements use technologies to organize and to communicate with the public and the media. However, this insightful literature has not yet explored how activists construct shared visions of the role that communication technologies can play in their struggle for social change and how these visions have an impact on their political practices. Thus, while activists have been approaching technologies from a political standpoint, the scholarship has mostly just investigated technologies as tools, devoid of political connotations. The research project fills this gap by investigating how contemporary social movements construct discourses about technology and social change, that I conceptualize as “technological imaginaries.” The main goal of this project is to develop an empirically-grounded, theoretical framework to account for the multifaceted relationship between communication technologies and activism in different countries, providing a more comprehensive perspective on the opportunities and tensions experienced by activists. This study offers the notion of “technological imaginaries” through which we can investigate undertheorized aspects of the relationship between technologies and social movements, systematize the abundant recent literature on social movements and historicize some of the claims surrounding activism and “new” technologies.


Grant Awarded ($9,000): Anti-Colonial Aid? Investigating the Decolonizing Potential of Cross-Cultural Dialogue in a Tanzanian NGO
Principal Investigator: Jenna Hanchey, University of Nevada, Reno

In much Western discourse, the idea of providing aid and assistance to developing countries operates as an unquestioned good. However, this “good” act usually proceeds with a blind eye toward privilege, leading to aid structures and communicative practices that reinforce—rather than ameliorate—economic inequalities. That is, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) often act in ways that reproduce neocolonial hierarchies, placing the needs and goals of Western donors and volunteers above that of non-Western aid workers and recipients. NGOs that serve Sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to neocolonial maneuvers, as Sub-Saharan Africans have a long history of being discursively constructed as lacking the agency to help, develop, or save themselves. To combat neocolonialism in international aid to Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a need for communication scholars to interrogate “the role of communication as an enabler of exploitation of specific communities, attending to the functions of discourses, frames, and images in reproducing the patterns of power that serve the interests of economically powerful actors.” If communication can produce and enable unjust relations that privilege Westerners over Sub-Saharan Africans, communication also holds the potential to destabilize and delink from neocolonial relations. To investigate how communication may be used to decolonize international aid work, this research project will analyze the potential of culture-centered dialogue to counter neocolonialism in a small, rural NGO in Tanzania. I have been invited by the leadership of a newly-formed NGO, Social Welfare Tanzania, to facilitate face-to-face dialogues between Western donors and Tanzanian staff at the NGO’s inception in the hopes that culture-centered dialogues can start the organization on a decolonial path, and lead to equitable intercultural partnerships in the future. Past research has shown that even when Western NGO workers claim to “partner” with Tanzanians, they still act in a paternalistic manner that belies the partnership and reinforces neocolonial relations. In facilitating these conversations and using participatory rhetorical field methods to collect and analyze data, I will investigate the potential of culture-centered dialogue for undermining neocolonial hierarchies and making Tanzanian voices more dominant in aid processes. In doing so, I add to research in anti and de-colonial rhetorics, communication and nonprofit organizing, and development communication.

Dissertation Grant Awarded ($1,000): Liquid Gold: A Proposal for Qualitative Inquiry into Decision-Making About Breastfeeding Among Indonesian Women
Principal Investigator: Nicole Johnson, Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis

This research engages narrative inquiry from a social constructionist perspective that leverages the lived experiences of Indonesian women feeding their infants to understand how meaning is constructed, utilized, and managed to cope with incompatibilities between expectations and desires relevant to decision-making processes. Decisions about breastfeeding are complex and interwoven with a woman’s physical and mental health, and her baby’s health. The structure and needs of her family and her living conditions, as well as societal, economic and political influences, also play an important role in decisions about exclusive breastfeeding (EBF). Indonesia presents a unique setting that frames breastfeeding as a public health priority as opposed to an individual lifestyle choice. Limited access to healthcare and sanitary conditions is prevalent in many low and middle-income countries, but Indonesia’s regionally disproportionate prevalence of infant death from digestive illnesses and malnutrition, and its official policy response to the situation demonstrates a prime context for exploring decision-making related to EBF. This study seeks to understand the decision-making processes of Indonesian women as they contemplate the best and most appropriate way to feed their infants, with a focus on the role that communication plays in creating, maintaining, decreasing, or resolving questions women may have about their expectations and uncertainties about their desires. The goal is to achieve a more nuanced, in-depth understanding of women’s breastfeeding experiences and decisions, which will extend the existing research and contribute to a nuanced framework for practitioners to promote breastfeeding. I also seek to explore socially constructed meanings related to motherhood and infant feeding decisions and experiences that arise through communication, which are overlooked by theories within the popular predictive paradigm such as the Health Belief Model and Theory of Reasoned Action.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Public Sense-making of Sustainable Water Access in Urban Communities: “Uneasy” Story-telling and Story-making through Collaborative Transmedia Ethnography
Principal Investigators: Rahul Mitra, Wayne State University, & Kelly Donnellan

This project examines how urban communities communicatively make sense of sustainable access to clean water in their everyday lives, stemming from the recognition that such meaning-making shapes public attitudes toward environmental governance and policymaking. Using a collaborative and transmedia approach to ethnography, we engage in “uneasy” story-telling and story-making—examining how community narratives are laced with privilege and power, especially pertaining to race and urban-suburban tensions. Detroit, Michigan serves as our site of ethnographic inquiry. We use a dual-phased research design that blends creative and humanistic methods. Phase 1 includes 50 in-depth interviews with urban residents, personal narrative writing, and 6 focus groups, to unpack key “water stories” used to make sense of the urban environment. Phase 2 is the creative segment that involves curating digital content on an online platform, creating webisodes based on Phase 1 themes, and organizing community gatherings for participatory evaluation and feedback. The project thus combines sophisticated qualitative analysis with easily accessible public scholarship to highlight how communication plays both a substantive and constitutive role in addressing urban social-ecological problems. Ultimately, the value of this project lies in its ability to enhance and transform community knowledge about key social, economic, political and environmental issues impacting water access in urban areas.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): Pacific Communication: Indigenous & Environmental Justice in the Mariana Islands
Principal Investigator: Tiara Naputi, University of Colorado Boulder

The Mariana Islands archipelago is a place that is largely absent from the “American” imagination, yet one that remains profoundly impacted by American colonialism. In 2018, the islands are the site for the largest transient peacetime U.S. military buildup in history. This military buildup is “the largest project that the Department of Defense [DOD] has ever attempted” and reflects an enduring legacy of militarism in the Pacific. The military buildup plans include relocating 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guåhan (Guam), constructing a live-fire training range (LFTR) complex and staging bombing exercises and war games throughout the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) that will have devastating environmental, cultural and social impacts throughout the archipelago. With substantial construction of the live-fire training range anticipated by November 2020 and a $78 million construction contract already awarded for buildup projects, now is the crucial time for field research in the Marianas. The DOD’s military buildup plans are unfolding with dangerous and irreversible environmental consequences and cultural implications that cannot be ignored. This research asks, what are the cultural and communicative practices of contemporary grassroots organizations challenging U.S. colonization in the Marianas? This project examines how Mariana Island communities communicate resistance as a form of cultural contestation against U.S. militarization. To address the grave importance of these unfolding events in the region and the lack of direct communication and attention to these issues happening in U.S. Pacific Island territories, this project has several research goals: 1) Collaborate with Mariana Islands’ justice organizations to research communication practices of resistance against current U.S. militarization; 2) Conduct multi-sited fieldwork in the Marianas at key sites of U.S. military buildup plans. To date, a project of this scope has not been conducted due to the lack of direct research attention in Communication Studies scholarship to U.S. Pacific Island territories (especially, Guåhan and the CNMI) and their Indigenous communities. This creates the need for communication inquiry into issues of decolonization, environmental justice, and cultural preservation in the Mariana Islands. This research makes a unique contribution to understanding pathways to justice and Indigenous resistance from Pacific Island communities as the 21st century continues.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Promoting Transformative Community Change for Equitable Health: Peer Training and Intervention for Pre-exposure HIV Prophylaxis
Principal Investigators: Sachiko Terui, University of Memphis; Joy Goldsmith, University of Memphis; Claude Miller, University of Oklahoma

Approximately 1,122,900 people in the United States are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and 37,600 new HIV infections are reported each year. Although HIV can affect almost everyone, it is disproportionally impacting individuals in underserved populations, particularly in the Southeastern United States compared to other regions in the U.S. The use of pre- exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication has been effective in other parts of the country, but is not prevalent in Southeastern states, especially in impoverished communities and among African American populations. As a case in point, we address the HIV issues in Shelby County, Tennessee, which has been affected by a disproportionately high incidence of HIV along with markedly low prevalence of mitigating strategies. By adopting social networking strategy (SNS), we incorporate the current project into health communication classes at our institution, which has a high proportion of minority students from local, poor communities. By enlisting undergraduate students enrolled in health communication classes as recruiters, we train them to be equipped with the knowledge about HIV, HIV prevention, HIV medicine, and resources. The undergraduate students become active learners who educate their community peers so that the community will become its own driving force in promoting transformative processes to reduce health inequities concerning HIV. The main goal of this study is to examine the processes and influences of health intervention delivery using the social network strategy.

2019-2020 WFI Funded Projects
(listed in alphabetical order)

Dissertation Grant Awarded ($1,000): Communicating a Youth Culture: Advertising in Postcolonial Bangladesh

Principal Investigator: Md Khorshed Alam, University of South Florida

Bringing the postcolonial theoretical framework in the area of cultural studies, this project aims to gain an understanding of the representation of youth culture in Bangladesh. The goal of this project is to explore how advertising plays a role in the production of a youth culture within the socio-economic and historical context of Bangladesh. It focuses on how global products penetrate local culture through advertising and facilitate local articulation of youth culture in the context of Bangladesh. This project aims to map the relationship between culture, transnational flows of commodities and media in order to understand the relationship among youth, advertising and a construction of consumer culture in contemporary Bangladesh. It seeks to uncover how consumption and consumer culture mediated through advertising influence the identities and aspirations of Bangladeshi youth and how they use material goods to define self and gain importance. This research will examine how consumption influences young boys and girls differently, both in urban and rural spaces of Bangladesh and becomes a tool for negotiating their positioning in the larger social world.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): An Intervention Study on Communication about HIV Risks and Prevention among Groups of Black Women Friends

Principal Investigator: Shardé Davis, University of Connecticut 

Though Black women make up roughly 7.2% of the U.S. population, they account for 66% of new HIV cases, for which Black women infected through heterosexual contact experience the highest mortality rates compared to other race groups of women. In the state of Connecticut, Black women are identified as one of the high-risk groups contributing to the local epidemic and represent 72% of diagnoses among all women. Disparities in health remain a persistent challenge in the U.S., so much so that national health organizations prioritize research that addresses the increasing health needs of racial minorities, such as Black women. One critical barrier to Black women's sexual health is their apprehension to communicate about the topic of HIV with others and proclivity to avoid HIV-related information, particularly their status, susceptibility, and prevention strategies. HIV is a stigmatized condition that corresponds to negative attitudes among many U.S Americans. Given society’s fears about HIV, topic avoidance is common within Black women’s family and community networks. The theory of inhibition and confrontation, along with prior research, suggests that Black women might experience physiological stress when they avoid seeking or discussing HIV-related information. Black women and researchers alike might be unaware of how stress corresponds to communication apprehension about the topic of HIV and delays in pursing HIV preventative options (i.e., talking to a partner about prevention and scheduling a medical appointment to get tested). A critical next step for research on HIV prevention is to examine the interrelationships among communication messages, physiological stress responses, and Black women’s HIV-related behavior. This project aims to pursue two research activities that are a derivative of a pilot study that examined whether Black women’s physiological reactions can delay or deter them from engaging in communication that supports risk-reducing and prevention behaviors for HIV. The first activity will inductively analyze the pilot data and the second activity will use the findings to inform an intervention study that teaches Black women the best practices for communicating about HIV risks and prevention to members of their social network. The overarching goal for these activities is to understand the extent to which communication reduces Black women’s stress about HIV risk and prevention.


Grant Awarded ($1,680): African Americans and End-of-life Care: Assessing Young Adults’ Perceptions of Advance Care Planning and Hospice 

Principal Investigator: Patrick Dillon, Kent State University at Stark

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released Dying in America –– a consensus report that called for increased efforts to ensure that all Americans have access to comprehensive, affordable, and high quality medical and social services at the end of life. As the report notes, achieving this goal will require a commitment to eliminating “barriers that limit access to care for certain groups,” particularly racial/ethnic minorities (IOM, 2015, p. 4). Of particular concern is the care that African American patients receive as they near the end of life, as recent studies suggest that their care is generally more expensive and of lower quality than comparable non-Hispanic white patients. Disparities in end-of-life care can, to an extent, be attributed to larger populations of African Americans living in regions with higher overall end-of-life treatment intensity and spending and their use of higher intensity hospitals. Many scholars argue, however, that such differences are (at least) partially the result of the underuse of hospice care by African American patients. Hospice care is a specific form of palliative medical practice that is designed to provide interdisciplinary medical and support services that attend to dying patients’ (and their loved ones’) physical, social, and spiritual needs. Despite the well-documented benefits associated with hospice care, African American patients are underrepresented within the hospice population. In 2014, African American patients accounted for just 7.6% of hospice patients; hence, large numbers of African American patients continue to die in hospitals –– where they are often subject to long periods of uncontrolled pain, futile medical treatment, and increased medical expenses. With the increasing recognition that disproportionate hospice enrollment may contribute to disparities in the cost and quality of end-of-life care, scholars from a variety of disciplines have sought to understand these differences by identifying population-specific barriers that may limit African Americans’ participation in hospice programs. Extant research suggests that a number of factors –– including reimbursement policies (which often require that patients forgo curative care in order to qualify for hospice care), a general mistrust of the health care system, and preferences for aggressive care –– may contribute to disparate hospice enrollment. Others have identified a reluctance to engage in formal advance care planning and limited/inaccurate knowledge of hospice care as additional contributing factors. Efforts are underway to develop educational programs and materials designed “to increase awareness and understanding of advance care planning, palliative care, and hospice among members of the African American community” (Rhodes et al., 2017, p. 510; see also Enguidanos et al., 2011). Despite the importance of such efforts, these interventions (and the research that informs them) are largely focused on middle-aged (i.e., aged 45 to 64 years) and older (i.e., aged 65 years and older) African American adults. Thus, this research represents the first step in a multi-phase project that will focus on developing and testing an educational intervention designed to promote awareness about advance care planning and hospice care among African American young adults (i.e., those aged 18 to 34 years).


Grant Awarded ($10,100): The Gun Violence Project: Narratives of Violence in Milwaukee

Principal Investigator: Leslie Harris, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, gun violence irrevocably shapes possibilities for mobility, as well as experiences and relationships. Yet, official accounts of gun violence fail to account for the lived experience of spaces, particularly the memories that enable people to make sense of their social spaces. The Gun Violence Project: Narratives of Violence in Milwaukee is an interdisciplinary, university/community collaboration that seeks to make sense of social spaces through the lens of gun violence, with explicit attention to the complex and often unheard or forgotten narratives that participate in shaping Milwaukee. This project will digitally map stories of Milwaukee gun violence through a multi-modal, interactive map that will be publicly available through a website. It aims to recover stories and experiences that would otherwise be lost or obfuscated by official narratives. By not only making these stories publicly accessible but also generating an interactive mapping of these stories we participate in reorienting time and space through narratives grounded in experience. In doing so, we will shape academic and public understandings of the material realities of gun violence in American cities, as well as humanistic understandings of social space and mobility. The final product will be a website that includes a digital map of Milwaukee gun violence, full interview transcripts, high-quality produced audio, and images. Unlike existing maps (e.g. the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel homicide map) that only identify an incident of gun violence, our project will allow viewers to hear the narratives associated with such violence through both high-quality audio production and story transcriptions. Unlike other artistic products, the digital map will allow public viewers greater access and interaction opportunities, while maintaining and building an archive of gun violence narratives for researchers. The map will not be fixed in time, but it will work as an evolving and changing instrument, which can allow for the sharing of new stories that show progress and the ways that people work to mobilize their communities.


Grant Awarded ($9,960): Harnessing Hope: Decolonizing Research on Native American Students’ College Persistence

Principal Investigator: Karla Hunter, South Dakota State University

Obstacles preclude the opportunities and benefits that accompany a college degree for far too many talented individuals, especially those of Native descent. As compared with peers in the general population, Native American students who enroll in college have twenty percent lower rates of persistence through to graduation and are less likely to persist than any other demographic group. While past scholarship has studied the social justice challenges and accompanying solutions for this persistence problem, much of this work exists within Westernized epistemology and pedagogy, or may reify the problem by framing it within a deficit model. For this reason, this project aims to study and engage narratives to design a novel approach to creating a more just social world by enhancing Native American student college persistence. Communication theory and communication research methods are central to this work toward social change because these tools are closely aligned with decolonizing methodologies. This research will employ these theories and methodologies to guide collaboration with Tribal College and University (TCU) graduates and faculty to co-create and test an evidence-based intervention designed to increase TCU students’ college persistence by harnessing their hope.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): Effects of Health Misinformation in Polarized Social Media

Principal Investigator: Soojong Kim, University of Pennsylvania

There is a growing concern about the prevalence of misinformation, online propaganda, and fake news in the current media environment. Especially, scholars have identified the prevalence of misinformation in social media about various health issues, such as vaccination, infectious diseases, cancer, and so-called miraculous cures. The spread of unsubstantiated and inaccurate health information exacerbates biased behavior and perception, creates unjustified fear and hate, and hinders individuals’ rational decisions. Thus, health misinformation which is perceived as credible and which triggers extensive retransmission can be detrimental to society. Previous studies about the effects of misinformation have focused on the characteristics of misleading messages and the characteristics of individuals spreading misinformation. However, scholars have largely overlooked “social factors” that can accelerate and amplify the impacts of misinformation, such as patterns of social interactions, network connections, and information exchanges between people in different social groups. Especially, considering the increasing levels of social segregation and political polarization in the current social media environments, it is reasonable to assume that these social factors play a critical role in amplifying the effects of misinformation. The proposed research investigates the influence of three social factors on the perception and sharing of health misinformation: the level of falsehood (the proportion of information that is misinformation), the level of network homogeneity (the proportion of neighbors that are ingroup neighbors), and the level of ingroup interaction (the proportion of information sent to an individual from people in the same social group).


Grant Awarded ($10,000): The Return

Principal Investigator: Hezekiah Lewis, Villanova University 

Historical effects are deep, violent, and lasting: The effect is called Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). This project stretches from the urban neighborhoods of Philadelphia to the slave fortresses of coastal Ghana in an effort to trace the effects of PTSS across continents and generations. Using a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) platform, we will analyze the effects of PTSS on a modern audience in an effort to raise consciousness while working to break the cycle of oppression. This research aims to connect the past to the present while understanding identity through exploration of common suffering. We will use our discoveries to develop an educational VR - AR experience that follows the journey of the African slave from capture to imprisonment. This project creates a universal, academic platform that addresses issues vital to the survival and success of African-American identity. With an educational platform centered on PTSS, the interactive experience is designed to create a multi-level experience in which the viewer is exposed to the realities faced by those imprisoned.


Dissertation Grant Awarded ($1,000): Hiding Under the Sun: Undocumented Immigrants and Communicating/Navigating the U.S. Health System

Principal Investigator: Jamie Robb, University of South Florida

This project proposes detailing the health experiences of individuals, those living in the United States as undocumented immigrants. It draws on theoretical ideas that help us understand the lived experiences of marginalized groups and troubles increasingly dominant conceptualizations of health communication which shape attitudes regarding the management of health. The aim of this project is to reveal experiential narratives on how undocumented immigrants, who are considered at-risk for negative health outcomes due to inadequate access to health care, communicate about health and illness. Due to the current political climate regarding immigration in the United States, ensuring the country’s health care system allows undocumented immigrants to feel comfortable seeking medical services is vital. In this research proposal, a critical health perspective explores how undocumented immigrants with limited access navigate the U.S. healthcare system. For this study, a culture-centered approach will problematize how undocumented immigrants navigate the U.S. health system in creative and resistive ways due to the fears associated with their precarious status.


Grant Awarded ($6,750): Combat Climate Change: Empowering Generation Z for Climate Change Activism through Viral Videos

Principal Investigators: Michelle Seelig, Weiting Tao, & Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai, University of Miami

Advocating for the environment in some form goes back decades, spanning a range of mediated content from coffee table books, calendars, posters, to photos, videos, and animation, and recently, content shared on digital and social media. These media efforts have gained a foothold resulting in policies for preservation and protection of harm to people and earth’s natural resources. Yet, while a range of environmental problems have posed threats to culture and society, climate change is considered one of the greatest global threats of our time. However, portraying the urgency and severity of climate change is challenging given that most impacts slowly develop over extended periods and the consequences are what will happen in the near future, not now. Research has also shown that news media coverage on environmental threats is often limited to sensationalistic, scary and divisive framing. Powerful rhetoric in news media may generate awareness about environmental problems, but in reality, the public largely avoids threatening imagery and rhetoric inciting fear. Given the complexity of communicating climate change, extent research has evaluated different communication strategies and appeals. Beattie, Sale, and McGuire (2011) argue that climate change communication requires scientists to explain to the public that what we are witnessing is different from the norm with persuasive evidence. While climate change communication has focused on the risks of global warming using scientific, statistical data, the underlying assumption of rational persuasion is that providing information about climate change will lead to increased public concern. Beyond rational appeal, recent evidence highlighted the power of emotional appeals in promoting behavior change to mitigate climate change. Research also found that emotions play a causal role in the processing of climate information, which influences the public’s support for climate policy. At the same time, emotional persuasion, particularly, fear-evoking messages may lead to unintended effects such as counter-argument, perceptions of manipulation, and message avoidance. Research to date, however, has not systematically compared the impacts of rational and emotional appeals for climate change communication. The proposed study thus empirically investigates whether and how rational argument versus emotional persuasion may exert dissimilar effects on motivating and empowering people of different involvement levels with climate change activism.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): Radical Media and Enlightenment in the Malay World

Principal Investigator: Rianne Subijanto, Baruch College, The City University of New York

This project reconsiders the history of enlightenment through an examination of radical media produced and circulated across the Malay world in the first half of the twentieth century. The origins and nature of enlightenment thinking have recently come under greater scrutiny, with numerous scholars arguing against its homogenous, monolithic, and Eurocentric history. Enlightenment is instead argued to be an ensemble of continuous processes of global circulation, translation, entanglements, and transnational co-production involving ordinary people of different sexes, races, nationalities, religions, and ages. To expand this critique and further the historiography of enlightenment as a complex global phenomenon, this project examines the radical media of anticolonial movements in British Malaya in the first half of the twentieth century, examining both the content (language, rhetoric, discourse) as well as the materiality of the texts (print technology, typography, production, and circulation). This research will result in a book-length manuscript and will contribute to the study of the global history of enlightenment an understanding that radical media were central in both the birth of national liberation against colonialism in the Malay world and in the global history of social emancipation.

2020-2021 WFI Funded Projects
(listed in alphabetical order)

Grant Awarded ($4,958): Legitimizing Grief and Addressing Health Inequity: A Culture-Centered, Community Based Campaign for Pregnancy Loss and Stillbirth Awareness

Principal Investigator: Sarah Aghazadeh, University of Maryland

Losing a pregnancy at any point in gestation can impact parents, families, and communities who grieve the broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations of a child. While roughly one in four pregnancies end in a loss and roughly one in 100 pregnancies end in stillbirth each year in the United States, many families often face a lack of support to cope with such loss. Parents and family members often experience disenfranchised grief meaning that their loss is not socially accepted as legitimate and/or acknowledged. Families often face challenges such as limited bereavement leave, untrained healthcare providers, and comments that can belittle their grief as something less than losing a child. Parents often find their voices and experiences silenced from stigma and shame in thinking they have done something wrong or failed in some way, which can perpetuate isolation and overall poor health and relationship outcomes. Furthermore, Black women are over two times more likely to experience stillbirth in comparison to white women, speaking to alarming health inequities that require concerted attention and action. How we as a society communicate about pregnancy loss and stillbirth influences how people perceive these losses, particularly regarding how norms of acceptable grief and empathy are indoctrinated into our culture. The power to determine a path forward and inspire change related to the topic must rest in the hands of people who know the deep pain associated with losing a pregnancy or baby. As our nation grapples with the consequences of systemic and institutional racism, it is also imperative that we continue to privilege Black voices to speak to the consequences of and possible interventions for health issues that bring disproportionate harm to Black communities. This project employs a culture-centered and community-based approach to developing a communication campaign in partnership with a local Mid-Atlantic community to shape culture and facilitate an outlet for families from diverse backgrounds and experiences to use their voices for communal healing and social change for pregnancy loss awareness.

Grant Awarded ($6,500): Using Entertainment-Education Programming to Promote Verbal Sexual Consent and Positive Attitudes Toward Women Among Adolescents

Principal Investigator: Cassandra Alexopoulos, University of Massachusetts Boston
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Drew Cingel, University of California Davis

Despite a growing awareness of sexual consent communication brought about by contemporary campaigns such as #metoo, both male and female adolescents report committing and experiencing sexual coercion (Fernandez-Fuertes et al., 2018). We propose an experiment that examines whether exposure to verbal sexual consent on television, ending in either a sexual encounter or the termination of a sexual encounter, promotes adolescents’ intentions to seek verbal sexual consent in their own lives. Further, we will explore the mediating role of adolescents’ attitudes toward women. Finally, we will consider the moderating role of adolescent development. Overall, this study will demonstrate how differing portrayals of sexual consent in mass media affect viewers, with particular consideration of adolescents, given their developmental stage. This study builds upon previous work by the co-PIs. Among a sample of adolescent participants aged 12-17, exposure to verbal sexual consent (vs. nonverbal sexual consent and vs. control) resulted in increased positive attitudes toward women, and increased positive attitudes toward women resulted in increased intention to seek verbal consent. In the current proposed project, we will extend these initial findings by considering whether participants’ positive attitudes toward women as a result of exposure to verbal consent is conceptually tied to the belief of women as sexual agents, as opposed to passive sexual objects.

Grant Awarded ($9,970): Rethinking (LGBT) Empowerment in the Global South: Exploring the Emancipatory Potential of Critical Dialogue for LGBT Rights NGOs in Ghana.

Principal Investigator: Godfried Asante, San Diego State University

In much of the Western discourse about LGBT empowerment, “coming out of the closet” operates as an unquestioned site of empowerment for LGBTQI+ youth in the West and outside of the West. However, the concept of “LGBT empowerment,” itself as it is disseminated transnationally by Human Rights International Non- Profit Organizations (I/NGOs) from the West to places like Ghana proceeds with many assumptions about human agency, sex and same-sex sexuality, and less attention to how cultural contexts, institutional constraints, and structural forces inform sexual practices. In Ghana, LGBT empowerment programs are driven by both local human rights Non-Profit Organizations and I/NGOs– who often act in ways where the needs of Western donors and volunteers in conjunction with local NGO staffs mainly drive and shape what LGBT empowerment means in the local context while representing such programs as locally emergent programs. Local community-based organizations are particularly vulnerable to the geopolitical imbalances inherent in the funding structures that provide financial support to LGBT empowerment programs in Ghana. In this way, LGBT focused local community organizations are designing “empowerment” efforts that are not always contextually and culturally relevant to the lives of LGBT individuals in Ghana. Communication can function as an enabler of exploitation of specific communities by reproducing the patterns of power that serve the interests of economically powerful actors over others. On the other hand, communication also holds the potential to disrupt and re-imagine alternative visions. To shift attention away from the narrow versions of LGBT empowerment, there is a need for a collaborative study that can: a) identify the needs of the LGBT community members in Ghana, b) create a process in which the LGBT community members and NGO staff can co-design an empowerment program, and c) create an evaluation strategy for the program to strengthen future programs. To investigate how communication may be used to rethink LGBT empowerment in Ghana, the participants in this collaborative study and I will use participatory action research and critical dialogues to provide a more contextually relevant and culturally appropriate needs assessment, and then co-design a more relevant empowerment program in a particular context in Ghana. This research will also analyze the emancipatory potential of critical dialogue and participatory action research as an effective modality to resist Western queer modernity.

Grant Awarded ($8,102): Communicating Success in Cultural Terms: A Postcolonial Perspective on NGO Monitoring, Evaluation, and Agency

Principal Investigator: Kellie Brownlee, University of Colorado, Boulder

International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been criticized for harmful development and communication practices, many of which reinforce a “white savior” narrative (Clair & Anderson, 2013; Cruz, 2013; Dempsey, 2009; Gill & Wells, 2014; Hanchey, 2016; 2018). However, as NGOs continue to grow and hold an influential space in global society, it is necessary to find new and innovative ways that these organizations can do more help than harm, not just in their organizing practices, but also in the ways that they evaluate their programs and communicate with the people they are serving. The success of NGOs is often measured in quantitative and financial terms (Liket & Maas, 2015). Practices of monitoring and evaluation also focus more on accountability to donors then accountability to beneficiaries, which neglects the agency of those being served to contribute to the process (Benjamin, 2012; Ebrahim, 2009). Across the nonprofit literature, communication theory remains underutilized. Even in the communication discipline, the approach of generating communicative theories of nonprofits is underdeveloped (Koschmann, 2012). This project seeks to explore how success is understood and communicated in culturally different ways, as well as how beneficiary agency can be harnessed for improved evaluation practices. In partnership with an international NGO that operates in five countries across Africa and the Caribbean, the research will study how the organization and the beneficiaries communicate measures of success. Data will be collected and analyzed over the period of a year, including document analysis, interviews, and participant observation. The participant observation will include at least two months of fieldwork in two of the countries where the partner NGO operates. The study will utilize Postcolonial Theory and Cultural Discourse Analysis to understand the cultural meanings of communication practices and how those discourses are influenced by colonial forces. There will also be an applied element conducted in partnership with the organization based on their needs and the findings of the research.

Grant Awarded ($9,295): Is Facebook News Biased Against my Opinion?: Testing the Influence of comments on the Hostile Media Effect & a Solution to the Problem

Principal Investigator: Sherice Gearhart, Texas Tech University
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Ioana Coman, Texas Tech University; Alexander Moe, SUNY Brockport

Americans are increasingly accessing news through social media, especially Facebook. News organizations have found these platforms to be an ideal outlet to disseminate news because they are free, expand their reach, and serve as a place for users to post comments. While user commenting has become a burden for news websites due to the need for moderating, Facebook offers an alternative platform for user engagement without the need for oversight. However, when stories are shared by news outlets, individuals are exposed to user comments before reading the news story. These interactions shape the visible opinion climate and a limited amount of research has shown those comments inhibit the ability of readers to interpret the neutrality and credibility of a news story. This proposed experiment will present the first systematic attempt at analyzing the impact of user comments seen before accessing a news story alongside a potential solution to this problem. Using a nationwide probability sample, we will test the impact of user comments across health-related topics and implement a knowledge quiz to a portion of the sample to test whether it can reduce the perception of bias imposed by user comments. This solution could effectively fill a gap in existent journalism and health communication research. The expectation is that this work will indicate what elements of news distributed on social media impact perceptions of bias and credibility, while also testing a proposed solution that can induce positive behaviors that can result in an improved democratic society. This research has the potential to impart significant practical importance as our planned community outputs aim to freely share this work with news organizations and social media outlets.

Grant Awarded ($9,520): Witnessing the Impact of COVID-19 in Disabled People’s Lives: A Web Archive and Community Newspaper Series

Principal Investigator: Kelly C. George, Immaculata University

As of June 2020, COVID-19 has taken over 100,000 American lives. Early data on impact shows that the virus has interacted with the social realities of disabled people’s lives in particularly sobering ways. Those most at risk of dying from the virus include those already vulnerable by virtue of pre-existing conditions or residence in congregate settings,where disabled Americans are disproportionately represented. Further, disabled people living independently but requiring personal assistance do not have the option to practice social distancing and their support staff often lacks access to PPE. When admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, those who need support staff to assist with communication have sometimes been denied that support due to strict restrictions on visitation. Due to school closures, school-aged students with disabilities and their parents have sometimes gone without the individualized instruction that public school systems are legally obligated to provide. In short, the pandemic continues to disproportionately impact people with disabilities and their families. Witnessing the Impact of COVID-19 in Disabled People’s seeks to document and contextualize the personal stories behind the pandemic at the local level where community members can best be seen and heard. Stories gathered will spotlight experiences shaped by existing social inequities experienced by disabled people in healthcare, housing, independence, and education. The project will collect, curate, and disseminate stories in two ways: a publicly available project website and a collaboration with community media in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Witnessing the Impact aims to capture the stories of disabled people in their own words while also addressing the isolation and invisibility that is so often a part of the experience of disability in America. By lifting up the personal stories of local community members and connecting these to systemic inequalities, the project shows how storytelling can be used to promote social justice. In so doing, the project documents for history the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable communities and shapes public understandings of impacts on disabled people, as well as academic understandings of narrative and the role of community media in 21st century America.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Collective Memory and Visual Communication: The Archival Legacy of the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup New Mexico

Principal Investigator: Allison Griffiths, Baruch College, The City University of New York

This research project critically analyzes the amateur film, photography, and promotional materials produced between 1922 and 1952 at the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial (ITIC) in Gallup, New Mexico as a form of collective memory for First Nation peoples. The ITIC is one of the most celebrated gatherings of Native Americans in the United States, a three-day showcase of dance performance, material culture, and rodeo, initiated by a group of local traders and civic leaders in 1922 that is now approaching its hundredth anniversary. The project explores the ability of archival film to retell history from the perspective of lost, suppressed, or marginalized voices, either through giving amateur films a new lease on life or through archiveology, the practiceof reediting found archival footage into new filmic works. In either scenario, the goal is to repatriate amateur films and photographs to First Nation peoples, mobilizing and recuperating the dynamic visual documents within a broader social justice movement. My goal in this project is to re-imagine the ITIC archive as an image bank from which collective memories can be retrieved, interviewing community members and returning visual materials to the Gallup Cultural Center Museum in order to enrich our understanding of Anglo-Native American relations and produce a social justice-informed vision of counter-memory. Inspired by Native American poet Ron Welburn’s questioning of who has the right to recount Indian history—he asks “in whose hands is the telling of the tale”—the goal of this project is to explore how the communicative value of amateur photography and filmmaking, especially the amateur movie’s elliptical structure and unpolished quality, make it amenable to recuperation and resignification by First Nation peoples.

Grant Awarded ($6,631): Constructing Transgender Suicide in U.S. Public Culture: A Critical Genealogy

Principal Investigator: Joe Hatfield, University of Arkansas

Transgender suicide is an exigent crisis in the United States. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey—the largest survey of transgender people to ever be conducted in the U.S.—81.7 percent of the study’s 28,000 participants reported to have seriously considered suicide, while 40.4 percent of respondents reported to have attempted suicide. Researchers published these startling statistics during a period when transgender suicide had become an increasingly popular topic of discussion in U.S. public culture. In early 2015, the suicide letter of Leelah Alcorn, a seventeen-year-old transgender woman from Ohio, circulated widely through a range of digital platforms. By the end of that same year, at least thirteen other transgender teenagers died by suicide across the U.S. In the half decade since these tragic events, more research and public discourse has proliferated around disproportionate rates of suicide within transgender communities. However, transgender suicide is not a “new”problem, nor does it originate in the twenty-first century. Preliminary research finds that transgender suicide discourses and representations have appeared in bio-medical contexts, news media, film, and other domains of U.S. public culture since the early1950s. Such communication has constructed a dominant image/narrative of transgender suicide in the public imaginary over the last century, shaping how cultural producers, consumers, academics, and policy makers perceive this social ill. To better understand this phenomenon, this project proposes a critical genealogy of transgender suicide rhetoric guided by three primary research questions. (1) How have public representations of transgender suicide historically evolved in the U.S.? (2) How have transgender subjects themselves communicatively influenced public representations of transgender suicide in the U.S.? (3) How have markers of race, class, and/or gender impacted the normative construction of the transgender subject in the U.S.?

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Speaking for Social Justice Project

Principal Investigator: Shawn J. Parry-Giles, University of Maryland
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Skye de Saint Felix, University of Maryland

This proposal seeks funding for RDA’s Speaking for Social Justice Project (SSJP). RDA
is a digital humanities initiative that brings the work of Communication scholars to students, instructors, and the broader public, showcasing how a diversity of individuals deliberated over controversial issues contested still today. Yet far too often, the voices of the most powerful are preserved more routinely than vernacular voices battling for social justice. When such activist voices are recovered, they often have limited circulation because they are routinely published in books or are non-circulating in archival depositories. One priority of SSJP is to promote the recovery, authentication, preservation, contextualization, and circulation of historical speeches of those fighting for social justice rights. RDA’s open-source website ensures widespread access to this Communication project steeped in the public and digital humanities. A second priority is to draw on the rhetorical training of Ph.D. students to reinforce RDA’s mission, deepen their archival experiences, and promote their social justice commitments, ultimately enabling them to replicate such university-archival projects as they build their research careers. The third priority is to make these materials available on an open-source website, inviting future submissions of social justice speeches from students, scholars, and the general public so as to expand the educational mission of the project.

Grant Awarded ($9,963.17): Storytelling in Online Healthcare Dialogues About COVID-19

Principal Investigator: Robert C. Richards, Jr., University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Laura W. Black, Ohio University; Anna W. Wolfe, Texas A&M University; Chul Hyun Park, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service; Carson S. Kay, Washburn University; David L. Brinker, Tufts University

This research project examines how structured online dialogues, conducted with these new technologies, can enable healthcare workers from multiple organizations to discuss their experiences and emotions arising from working through the pandemic. Drawing on theories of dialogue, storytelling, framing, and communicative care, this study investigates how healthcare workers employ online dialogue to address their pandemic-related trauma and emotions, and the roles of storytelling, identity negotiation, and sense-making in those processes. The study also examines the extent to which participation in dialogue can help healthcare workers address their emotions related the disparate impact of the pandemic on people of color, and the politicization of healthcare.This project involves a case study of three online dialogues—to be held in July and August 2020—for healthcare workers who have provided care to patients through the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The dialogues, conducted on the Zoom platform, are organized by Essential Partners, a citizen-engagement consultancy. The dialogues employ Essential Partners’ communication method called reflective structured dialogue, which is designed to foster respectful and compassionate listening to others’ experiences, and encourage participants to develop constructive relationships across social divides.Though this dialogue method is traditionally conducted face to face, since the pandemic reflective structured dialogue has started to be used online.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Trigenerational Latinx Intimate Health Communication

Principal Investigator: Valerie Rubinsky, University of Maine at Augusta
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Angela Cooke-Jackson, California State University Los Angeles; Ashley Aragon, University of Maryland

The proposed research project investigates tri-generational communication about sexual and reproductive health within Latinx and Latina families. We focus on the specific memorable messages, or messages that are sticky and impactful (Cooke-Jackson & Rubinsky, 2017), that occur between and among different generations about sexual and reproductive health in the context of the family. Tri-generational sexual health communication among Latinx and Latina mothers, daughters, and grandmothers may serve as a robust socio-cultural communicative space to understand the lived experiences that transpire among individuals and throughout generations. While a plethora of research examines the Latina family, focus on the cultural constructs that inform feminine gender roles in relationship to sexual activity, and sexual and reproductive health is sparse. For that reason, this proposal seeks to understand how messages are communicated across different generations. Specifically, we propose the following research questions: (1) How does each generation of Latinx/Latina families understand their own communication about sexual and reproductive health within the family? (2) How does each generation of Latinx/Latina families understand their family members’ communication about sexual and reproductive health within the family? (3) How has family communication about sexual and reproductive health changed over time in Latinx/Latina families? (4) What memorable messages do each member of Latinx/Latina tri-generational families recall (a) receiving and (b) delivering about sexual and reproductive health? (5) At what points, if any, in their lived experiences do Latinx/Latina tri-generational families recall utilizing those memorable messages?

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Effective Strategies to Counter the Spread of Misinformation on WhatsApp: An Experiment in Kenya and Senegal

Principal Investigator: Melissa Tully, University of Iowa
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Dani Madrid-Morales, University of Houston

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, countries have been fighting a wave of misinformation about the virus on social media. In fact, in March 2020, WHO declared that the world was “not just fighting an epidemic,” but an “infodemic.” Fact-checking and news organizations have been at the forefront of this “fight.” However, to date, there is limited empirical data on the efficacy of the strategies these groups have been employing; the absence of evidence is particularly acute in the Global South despite preliminary data that suggests misinformation about the virus is rampant in countries across the globe. In this project, (1) we will explore the spread of misinformation around COVID-19 and health more generally in two African countries (Senegal and Kenya) to fill a gap in the current research. We will do this by interviewing professionals (e.g., journalists, fact-checkers) and social media users to better understand the misinformation landscape. Next, based on the existing research on misinformation and interventions (e.g., fact checks, corrections, media literacy) and insights from our interviews, (2) we will design, test and implement interventions to reduce the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 in two African countries with different language, media and social systems.

Grant Awarded ($8,990): Reproductive Healthcare at the Margins

Principal Investigator: Amy Way, Villanova University

The proposed ethnographic research project is rooted in a tradition of community-based participatory research,where researchers work in collaboration with community members to design and implement practically useful research. Working in collaboration with the organization, my goal is to formulate an understanding of how the organization’s mission is translated into their practices and a physical space to support local community members. While learning about these transformational healthcare practices, I’ll also work to bolster the profile of the organization with material to increase their exposure in the community. Beyond the benefits to the organization itself, this project will offer a case study on organizing locally around reproductive healthcare for marginalized communities, contributing to scholarly literature and offering a set of best practices for any organization who might benefit from such a close look at the process.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Empower and Protect the Vulnerable Populations during COVID-19 Through Examining Health Risk Information Seeking and Avoidance Behaviors

Principal Investigator: Qinghua Yang, Texas Christian University
Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Weidan Cao, Ohio State University

Coronavirus (COVID-19), a novel infectious disease defined by the World Health Organization as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, affecting around 210 countries or territories, has seriously affected people’s health and lives worldwide, but not to the equal extent. Specifically, people of color or economically disadvantaged, as vulnerable populations, are more likely to contract COVID-19 and develop fatal symptoms. To flatten the curve of COVID-19 in the U.S., the most severely affected country with confirmed cases ranking the first in the list of countries impacted as of July 1, 2020, information about preventing and treating COVID-19 has been updated frequently as the pandemic evolves, to help people better protect themselves and minimize the risk. Within the context of COVID-19, people need adequate information during a short period of time to make quick decisions as the acute risk situations or emergencies evolve rapidly, but the accessible information (especially information on the Internet) is usually insufficient, diverse, or conflicting. Although previous research documented that individuals’ health behaviors and outcomes are predicted by their information exposure and acquisition, few studies have examined health risk information management during pandemics, which limited our knowledge about COVID-19-related online health risk information management strategies—online health risk information seeking (HRIS) and online health risk information avoidance (HRIA), and how the strategies influence individuals’ performance of protective behaviors. To fill this gap in the literature, the project will be guided by planned risk information-seeking model (PRISM) and planned risk information avoidance model (PRIAM) to examine individuals’ online HRIS and HRIA, with two-fold goals—a) to examine how the key variables (e.g., sociocultural, cognitive, emotional, and demographic factors) predict U.S. adults’ COVID-19 health risk information seeking and avoidance behaviors on the Internet, and b) to explain how health risk information seeking and avoidance influence U.S. adults’ protective behaviors in response to COVID-19.


2021-2022 WFI Funded Projects
(listed in alphabetical order)


Grant Awarded ($9,425): Holding Space with Immigrant Women Faculty in Communication to Retreat, Relate, and Reflect: A Coauthored White Paper to Reimagine U.S. Academia

Principal Investigator: Yea-Wen Chen, San Diego State University

Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Brandi Lawless, University of San Francisco

                                                              Marwa Abdalla, UC San Diego

Living through the ongoing COVID-19 and multiple pandemics, many women and mother-scholars in particular have been juggling disproportionate work-life imbalances that could have both short-term and long-term consequences for their careers and families. Among women faculty, what is less known (yet more precarious) is how immigrant women faculty navigate the ongoing multiple pandemics (e.g., COVID-19, anti-Black and anti-Asian racism, heterosexism, xenophobia, and more). Straddled between at least two countries, immigrant women faculty are uniquely positioned to witness and experience unevenness and equity gaps of how the multiple pandemics might play out around the world. As an example, in May 2021, when COVID-19 cases were in retreat in the United States and European countries, countries like India and Taiwan suffered the worst surges, outbreaks, and deaths partly because of unequal access to and distribution of vaccines. Essentially, this proposal seeks support of and investment in immigrant women faculty in communication by funding a research retreat to bring together a small group of women across ranks and regions of origin to relate, reflect, and coauthor a white paper of concerns, hidden fractures, and strategic opportunities for the study of communication for social change. After the unprecedented four years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies under the Trump administration and over 16 months of forced isolation while witnessing, if not personally experiencing racist/sexist/xenophobic COVID-19 rhetoric and/or violence, holding a space for and with immigrant women faculty is a necessary and much needed response for community and healing.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): The Monster in the Museum 

Principal Investigator: James L. Cherney, University of Nevada, Reno

This book project revolves around a rhetorical analysis of several medicalor anatomical museums in North America and Europe. Adopting a theoretical framework grounded in rhetorical theory and museum studies, and informed by the general project of disability studies to locate and interrogate ableism and its cultural resources, the project will critique these museums and investigate how they frame a public memory of the body and disability. The work builds on my earlier research that examines how ableist rhetoric operates epistemically, ideologically, and visually. As public spaces in which patrons encounter “deviant” and “abnormal” bodies--including human “monstrosities”--these museums provide an opportunity to see how people can be oriented toward ableist thinking in identifying themselves in contrast with the displayed bodies. 


Grant Awarded ($3,912): We’re Here, We’re Queer, and We’re Stressed: Using the Minority Stress Model to Explore the Impact of Queer Readings on Mental Health Among Sexual Minority Youth 

Principal Investigator: Leah Dajches, University of Arizona

Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, University of Arizona

Research shows that sexual minority youth (e.g., Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual) are at increased odds for negative mental health outcomes (Goldbach & Gibbs, 2017; Kann et al., 2017; The Trevor Project, 2019). According to the minority stress model (MSM) (Meyer, 2003), such disparities are proportionately related to their experiences of sexual minority stress (e.g., discrimination, internalized homonegativity). The effects of minority stress on adverse mental health outcomes can be mitigated through coping and social support resources (Griffin et al., 2004; Toomey et al., 2018). While coping and support resources are empirically supported within the MSM, empirical research has yet to explore the role of rescripted or subverted mainstream media messages in such relationships. In light of this, the proposed dissertation project will examine a novel coping mechanism, queer readings, which are theorized to moderate the impact of minority stress on negative mental health among sexual minority youth. The proposed project suggests that queer readings may help alleviate the impact of minority stress on negative mental health outcomes. In other words, queer readings create opportunities and spaces for sexual minority youth to explore their inner needs and desires, which may provide unique coping resources and support. In particular, we theorize that queer readings may promote resilience by helping sexual minority youth to overcome a variety of marginalized experiences. 


Grant Awarded ($10,318): Black Lives Matter: Perspectives from the Ground

Principal Investigator: Amanda Nell Edgar, University of Memphis

Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Andre E. Johnson, University of Memphis

                                                              DiArron Morrison, University of Memphis 

                                                              Curtis Chamblee, University of Memphis

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May of 2020, protests broke out in Minneapolis and quickly spread across the country. These protests added to the calls for justice in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor had been killed by police only months earlier. Spreading first across the country, from Los Angeles to Atlanta to Tulsa, and later into the streets of Vancouver, Paris, Berlin, and London, calls to make Black lives matter quickly spanned the globe. During this time, support for Black Lives Matter skyrocketed, increasing by 68% in just two weeks. This increase in support following widespread protests is not necessarily predictable. In fact, across history, every major social movement has been met with countermovement activity bent on suppressing activists’ messages. Nor does previous research on social movements help to explain the increasing numbers of BLM supporters, given the field’s typical focus on movement leaders. Without a clear sense of the unique influences of the current moment on the surge in support for Black Lives Matter, racial justice advocates are less equipped to harness this energy for the future actions necessary to truly maintain momentum in achieving equity and justice. Our project Black Lives Matter: Perspectives from the Ground fills this gap by collecting the stories of the individual participants who contributed to the movement’s popularity during the summer and fall of 2020. Through these stories, we will piece together a picture of how communication worked to unite protesters behind the cries for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other victims of police and white supremacist violence.


Grant Awarded ($3,385): Politics of Tanning in Asia: Neoliberal and Neocolonial Discourse Constructed on Tanned Female Bodies in Korea

Principal Investigator: Seonah Kim, University of Washington

In this dissertation project, I examine issues of racialization and sexualization as they pertain to Korean women who consume and perform non-mainstream beauty and cultureof tanning in Korea. By conducting discourse analysis, autoethnography, and in-depth interviews, I will record, listen to, and participate in Korean women’s lived experience of tanning beauty and culture. The potential social benefit that this research will yield is twofold. First, this project introduces Korean women’s new desire for dark skin to de-/re-construct the long-lasting racialized beauty discourse in Korea that has been based on the Western-centered understandingof race, gender, beauty, modernity, and cosmopolitanism. In doing so, this project aims to produce resistive cultural narratives to dominant discourses of whiteness, speaking against histories of racialization and understanding of blackness/darkness in Korea. Second, this research also involves a critique of race and gender inequality prevalent in and among Asian countries and cares about living conditions and experiences of dark-skinned immigrant women with marriage migrant visas in Korea. By juxtaposing immigrant women’s brown/dark bodies with Korean women’s tanned/bronze bodies, I not only challenge Koreans’ internalization of developmental racism that places them closer to white westerners but also seek out strategic feminist alliances between Korean women and migrant women in Korea. This study focuses on representations, performances, and narratives of tanning as an attempt to unpack the neoliberal and neocolonial discourse constructed on and around women's dark/brown bodies in Korea. To map the discursive configuration of tanning performance in Korea, I include television media, new media, websites, and local shops as observation, analysis, and interpretation sites. Additionally, I also interview Korean women to include their lived experiences and personal voices as a critical site of investigation.


Grant Awarded ($7,689): Paths of Acceptance for Parents of Gender Minority Youth: Hastening Acceptance Through Narrative Persuasion

Principal Investigator: Katrina L. Pariera, The George Washington University

There is an urgent need for research aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of gender minority youth (GMY), who experience high rates of stigma, bullying, suicide, substance use, discrimination, and violence. Parental support of GMY is a crucial buffer against those experiences, yet many parents have a slow or non-existent path of accepting their gender minority child. One factor that contributes to this is a lack ofopportunities to learn about how other parents came to accept and advocate for their child. Research suggests that exposure to narratives can be a powerful mechanism for behavior change, yet parents rarely see or hear these stories and thus do not have narratives to guide them. Little is known about how parents arrive at a state of being supportive, and whether highlighting such stories to other parents can help them envision their own path to acceptance. The specific aims of my two-part project are to understand parents’ paths of acceptance of their gender minority children and to subsequently use this information to develop and test an experimental intervention aimed at increasing parents’ support behaviors through narratives. The goals of this mixed method study are to 1) understand parents’ paths of acceptance of their gender minority children, and 2) using this information, develop and test an experimental intervention designed to increase parents’ gender-affirming and support behaviors through narratives.


Grant Awarded ($8,574): Precarious Societies, Collective Solidarity: Feminist Economic Organizing of Mutual Aid Organizations and Resilience Discourses During COVID-19

Principal Investigator: Brett Robertson, University of South Carolina

Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Sean Eddington, Kansas State University 

                                                              Lauren Berkshire Hearit, Hope College 

                                                              Timothy Betts, University of South Florida

The COVID-19 pandemic destabilized and disrupted communities across the United States, underscoring the vulnerability of existing social structures like housing, medical, financial, and social safety net systems to exogenous shocks like pandemics, natural disasters, economic crises, and the like. Community-based, mutual aid responses to the COVID-19 crisis received national media attention, especially in the early stages of stay-at-home orders. As 3,000 New York City restaurant workers organized to raise $25,000 and distributed the funds as weekly stipends to other out-of-work restaurant employees during the early days of the stay-at-home orders, or librarians worked together to feed food insecure children in their communities, mutual aid systems and organizations (MAOs) underscored how existing inequities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, much like how Hurricane Katrina, for example, highlighted deep inequities in U.S. housing policies for marginalized communities. The increased recognition that MAOs play a vital role when economic and political systems fail certain populations highlights a need to examine how both centering marginalized voices (e.g., women, BIPOC) and transforming economic systems can create more equitable economic realities for those historically left out of traditional, neoliberal economies. This project examines the role that mutual aid organizations (MAOs) play in disrupting traditional, neoliberal economic systems through communication processes, and explores how mutual aid organizations constitute equitable economic systems for communities in need. Using a multi-phase approach, we collaborate with four MAOs in our own communities (two based in the Midwest, two based in the Southeast). Following a needs-assessment approach, we conduct semi-structured interviews with key MAO volunteers and social media managers to ask how MAOs work to build equitable economic systems in their communities, how crises have marred efforts for equity, and how communication enables (or constrains) resilience processes within and outside their organization. We also implement photo-elicitation interview questions to capture social media posts and image-based data to better understand volunteers’ experiences organizing on-and offline.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): Identity Gaps and Approach-Oriented Social Media Coping: Mediators Between COVID Racial Discrimination and Stress

Principal Investigator: Jiun-Yi Tsai, Northern Arizona University, School of Communication

Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Chia-chen Yang, Oklahoma State University

Research has documented that COVID-linked discrimination against Asians was associated with poor mental health among Asian Americans. However, the social and health inequities facing diverse Asian groups remain largely invisible, unacknowledged, and understudied, relatively to other racial minorities. This project represents one of the first to develop a communication-centered framework for unpacking the roles of personal-enacted identity gaps and approach-oriented social media coping in Asians’/Asian Americans’ reaction to anti-Asian discrimination. Utilizing a mixed-methods approach involving survey data and focus group interviews with Asians/Asian Americans in the United States, we aim to explore (1) how three types of discrimination (direct, vicarious, and media) engenders the personal-enacted identity gaps and motivate social media use as a way to cope with discrimination, (2) how personal-enacted identity gaps and approach-oriented social media coping mediate the relationship between racial discrimination fueled by COVID and race-based traumatic stress, and (3) the moderating role of perceived social support. The project builds on the two Principal Investigators’ collaborative work on how the spike of racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic negatively influenced Asian people’s mental well-being.This work will generate important implications for promoting mental health for the Asian communities. First, we will provide health service organizations with a better understanding of Asians’ experiences of discrimination. Specifically, the results will reveal how discrimination imposes identity threats and engenders identity gaps, which, in turn, induce stress. Second, our findings will provide empirical evidence showing whether and how using social media as a coping tool may benefit Asians after they encounter discrimination. Third, this project will raise the visibility of Asians’ well-being needs to call for more institutional resources and funding devoted to culturally appropriate health services. Culturally appropriate care will be achieved by ensuring that providers are sensitive to Asians’ unique needs, identity challenges, and racism-related experiences.


Grant Awarded ($10,000): Creating While Purple: Prince, Intellectual Property, and Black Capitalism

Principal Investigator: Anjali Vats, University of Pittsburgh

In contrast to settler colonial period of global conquest, in which civilizations were built primarily on the extraction of raw materials, wealth today is accumulated through ownership of raw knowledge, including copyrighted works, patented inventions, and graphical marks. These valuable intellectual properties, which take the form of movies, music, games, software, biotechnologies, mascots, and more, have become increasingly important to the US economy in its transition from being a producer of goods to a producer of services. This proposal addresses the catastrophic hoarding of informational wealth in the context of rock music and the industry surrounding it, through a communication, rhetoric, and media focused approach to the area of study called Critical Race Intellectual Property (CRTIP). The project that I propose here continues along the path of inquiry that scholars in law and critical race studies have laid out, while also building out in new and novel directions. Creating While Purple: Prince, Intellectual Property, and Black Capitalism, asks multiple layers of questions about how intellectual property laws are raced in the context of music, how celebrities such as Prince have changed the landscape of those laws, and what implications they have for communication and media studies, as well as racial equality in this fraught moment. The project engages with music and race, capitalism and personhood, Afrofuturism and privacy, topics that are increasingly central to the future of communication and the humanities. It also has the potential to contribute to a generative and transformative conversation about race, creatorship, and law that has become increasingly mainstream since Marvin Gaye’s Estate sued Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T. I. for infringing on “Gotta Give It Up.” Reading Prince as an important figure in the conversations about race and intellectual property can help scholars, creators, lawyers, and activists to understand and implement anti-racist measures that protect creators of color. In Creating While Purple, I develop a method focused on communicative practice that draws on scholarship about race, law, and celebrity in order to investigate the contours of anti-Blackness in knowledge production via Prince.


Grant Awarded ($5,341):Communicating Queer Chinese Identities: A Qualitative Investigation of the Visibility and Intelligibility of Transnational Queer Women in the United States

Principal Investigator: Terrie Siang-Ting Wong, Penn State Brandywine

Additional Investigator(s)/Researchers: Shuzhen Huang, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Despite the progress made in LGBTQ rights since Stonewall, sexual non-conformity is still stigmatized in many societies today. In communication interactions, diasporic sexually non-conforming individuals (henceforth queer) navigate nationality and race, in addition to sexual orientation, as intersecting markers of marginality. For diasporic queer Asians in the United States, the navigation of these intersecting markers of marginality takes place in the context of viral racism and anti-Asian hate. In the current zeitgeist, how and when do diasporic queer Asians (choose to) make themselves visible and intelligible? What are their challenges and considerations when performing their identities in the United States? This project investigates transnational queer women of Chinese descent’s (henceforth queer Chinese women) performance of identity in the United States. Dominant Euro-American LGBTQ discourse narrates the United States as progressive and the ultimate destination for queer people, while Asian nations such as China are cast as queerphobic. Queer Chinese women are both sexually fetishized and vilified in current pandemic-era discourse, as epitomized in the Atlanta spa-shootings in March 2021. Community advocate group Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council identifies anti-Chinese sentiment as a key reason for anti-Asian hate and violence in COVID-pandemic times. Given the above, it is imperative in current times to uncover counter narratives and images of what communication of identity looks like in daily life for diasporic queer Chinese females in the United States. Amplifying the voices of queer Chinese women is important for encouraging a positive self-image for queer Chinese individuals and for more equitable intercultural relations in the United States; with multiple narratives of what “being Chinese” could look like, one may begin to see the Chinese as layered, complicated individuals beyond media stereotypes.

We are delighted to announce the recipients of the 2021-22 WFI Research Grants! This year, we awarded nearly $80,000 in research grants to an outstanding collection of scholarly projects, all of which demonstrate the importance of engaging social justice matters from a communication perspective. Click on the box above to learn more about this year's recipients!

* 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
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.