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Graduate Dissertation Spotlight

Graduate student and top paper award recipient Tyra Jackson  

Tyra Jackson, PhD Student

“The press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and a white perspective.” -Otto Kerner Jr.

While some research on newsroom diversity has focused on how minority reporters can potentially improve the coverage of marginalized communities, contrasting research has demonstrated that increasing newsroom diversity is not enough to end stereotypical coverage of those communities. Researchers have not explored the possibility that newsroom diversity may be an ineffective strategy to improve coverage of minority groups like Blacks because of minority and white reporters’ use of a Eurocentric viewpoint called the white racial frame, which upholds white standards and ideologies. The white racial frame has been instilled in journalism schools and institutions through emphasis on white news values. Researchers have yet to question how the white racial frame and accompanying frames counter-frames (pro-black frames like BLM, Civil Rights Movement, etc.) and multiframes (use of both white racial frames and counter-frames) function in the creation of news stories written by African American journalists. Why focus on hiring more reporters of color if their views may reflect those of white journalists and journalism institutions embedded in the white racial frame? This dissertation will address how African American journalists angle their coverage of Blacks and the Covid-19 pandemic. This study may allow researchers and journalism institutions to reconsider newsroom diversity approaches.

View Tyra's current CV here

Tazrin Jannat Khan, PhD Student

“A Mixed-Method Approach to Understanding Parents' Moral Values for HPV Vaccination Intention and the Role of Message Framing in Vaccine Promotion”

The opposition to vaccines and their efficacy may be rooted in fundamental intuitions that govern individual moral judgments. It is important to know how moral values, opinions, and decisions affect each other, especially when it comes to scientific controversies such as vaccinations. Using the Moral Foundations Theory, this dissertation will use Reddit data to conduct supervised machine learning to explore parents' moral values and how these values influence their vaccination decisions. Framing health messages is a proven way to promote vaccinations. This dissertation seeks to understand how moral message framing, message tone, and political ideologies influence parents' perceptions and intentions to vaccinate their children. To test the RQs and hypotheses, this study will conduct an online survey experiment with parents of HPV vaccine-eligible children and adolescents. While this dissertation is focused on parents of children in the US, the overall goal of this research is to advance the field of childhood vaccine communication by highlighting the importance of moral and psychological predictors in vaccine decision-making and the communication strategies for HPV vaccinations. Considering the findings, researchers will be able to develop a strategic plan to encourage parents and urge them to administer vaccines as preventive measures against HPV and related disorders.

Graduate student Shelby Landmark

Shelby Landmark, PhD Student

The Production of Autistic Sexual Subjectivity in Reality Television

This dissertation project focuses on contemporary representations of autistic sexuality in the reality television program Love on the Spectrum and explicates the social practices and conventions found there that produce expectations for autistic sexual subjectivity. Despite increasing prevalence of representations of autistic people in film and television, representations of autistic people relating to topics of sexuality (including dating) in media are sparse with nonnormative sexualities even sparser. Previous studies about autism and television representations have not explicitly engaged with reality television as a cultural technology that attempts to shape autistic sexual subjectivity and have not included autistic participants in audience analyses. This project will add to disability and media representation literature by exploring autistic peoples’ reactions to this television program as expressed on social media as well as fill a gap by interviewing autistic people themselves in a field in which perspectives of autistic audiences are completely absent. During this project I hope to contribute to increased understanding of how autistic people form sexual subjectivity through mediated technologies.

View Shelby's current CV here


Graduate student Zachary Sheldon

Zachary Sheldon, PhD Student

"Christian Influence: Social Media and the Legitimacy of the Famous Faithful"

This dissertation project centers on evangelical Christian social media influencers and their engagement with their audiences across the various religious and social controversies of 2020-2021. Many studies of social media and influencer culture have focused on how influencers cultivate a deliberate persona around the concept of authenticity. But even as these studies examine and name certain critical media practices that these influencers display, they omit any consideration of how influencers become influencers, and how they maintain their influence within groups. In essence the current literature on social media influencers privileges the behavior and appearance of individual influencers, but ignores that these influencers are part of larger collectives in both formal and informal capacities. My dissertation offers a corrective to this by introducing and exploring the concept of “legitimacy” on social media, and the strategic ways that influencers engage the concept to both accrue and wield legitimacy amidst their followers. One particularly useful group to explore in this way is religious influencers, as religious collectives have formal and informal standards for group membership yet also often emphasize a decentralized vision of authority that enables individuals like influencers to operate within the collective and as individual actors. Examining the Instagram posts of religious celebrities within evangelicalism, then, provides significant insights into the ways that specifically religious influencers and other, secular influencers navigate the muddy currents of culture to appeal to their audiences and maintain influence.

View Zack's current CV here