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Graduate Dissertation Spotlight

Graduate student Anthony Ramirez  

Anthony Ramirez, PhD Student

Historias de la Frontera: An Exploration of Latine Identity of the U.S.-Mexico Border in Comic Books

My dissertation examines U.S.-Mexico border representation and Latinx representation in 15 comic books past and present using Latina/o critical communication theory and visual rhetoric. With this dissertation, I hope to contribute to the academy in a variety of ways including expanding on research in Latinx communication studies, border studies, media studies, race and cultural studies, and comic studies. Some of the scholars I have included in my dissertation include: Gloria Anzaldua, Oscar J. Martinez, Jose David Saldivar, David R. Marciel, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Carlos G. Velez-Ibanez, Fredrick Luis Aldama, Christopher Gonzalez, Henry Jenkins, and Scott McCloud. A study like this is significant towards academia, comic studies and communication research as there is a large population of Latinx people in the U.S. yet there is a lack of representation of Latinx community in comic books. Furthermore, there is also an absence of research on comic book media as comic studies are a growing field in communication scholarship and academia.

View Anthony'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

Graduate Student Felicia York

Felicia York, PhD Student

"Capturing the Voices of Maternal Blackness: A Cultural Approach to Understanding the Health Care and Communicative Experiences of African American Mothers"

"The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.  The most neglected person in America is the black woman" (Civil rights activist Malcolm X, 1962; cited in Rodriguez, 2016). This quote by Malcolm X still rings true nearly 60 years later, especially in health care treatment and health outcomes of black mothers.  The primary aim of this dissertation research will be to offer a discursive space for African American women to describe their experiences, perceptions, and practices predicated on how they communicate and navigate maternal healthcare.  This interpretive study will also better understand how interpersonal communication in maternal healthcare can contribute to racial disparities in health outcomes. Specifically, this dissertation study will seek to make sense of the health care experiences of African American pregnant mothers’ and African American new mothers’ communication with their clinicians and identify entry points for reducing maternal morbidity and mortality racial disparities.  In this dissertation, I will use photovoice to critically examine African American mothers’ maternal health care experiences and the role that their racial and cultural identities play in overcoming barriers preventing them from being as healthy as they want to be.  During this project, I expect to generate new knowledge from cultural participants on their struggles, successes, and communication practices with the healthcare structures that can inherently restrict and provide agency. This research that will interconnect CCA and the photovoice methodology offers an unconventional opportunity to unite a theory and method identically aligned to give agency to marginalized and silenced communities.

View Felicia's current CV here