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.