What do you consider to be your major contributions to your field?
Whether I’m teaching, conducting research, or doing advising and program development, I think of all of my work as promoting constructive social change. I focus on introducing ideas and ways of thinking that open students’ minds to the structural inequalities, practices, and cultural ideologies that disadvantage certain groups and privilege others. I’m committed to conducting research that’s not just interesting on an intellectual level, but that’s also useful in its findings and empowering in its process. I recently created a film called Flirting with Danger: Power and Choice in Heterosexual Relationships with the Media Education Foundation, based on my research on sexuality and victimization. It’s been incredibly rewarding to hear from both male and female viewers—from their early teens to their 60s or 70s—who have found echoes of their own experiences in the women’s stories we present, and who have found that the analysis has provided them with a framework for making sense of their own lives.
What is a typical day like for you?
One of the things I love about my job is that there’s no such thing as a typical day. On any given day, I might meet with several students interested in exploring the Communication major or wondering what opportunities they would like to pursue after graduation, offer a workshop, teach my Peer Advising and Leadership or Media and the Construction of Gender seminar, and work with a student on a research project. Among the most fulfilling aspects of my advising work is helping students who are really struggling—whether academically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise—to find the support they need to persist in their studies and earn their degree.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a study of the impacts of federal policies regarding campus rape (e.g., Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Campus SaVE Act) on teaching practices, research, and advocacy regarding sexual assault and domestic violence. Faculty and staff are now required to report any known incidents of campus violence, which may be a positive step since some universities tend to “sweep things under the rug” when it comes to collecting statistics about sexual assault. But what are the implications for teaching, research, and advocacy? Will professors who once encouraged students to write about their own personal experiences shy away from this practice for fear of hearing something they need to report, even if the student asks them not to? Will researchers stop studying these issues if they need to report what they learn from their interviews? I’m interested in learning from faculty and staff around the country about both the positive and potentially problematic implications of these policies.
I’m also working on a new film on hookup culture with my colleague from the Comm Department, Prof. Sut Jhally. I’ve been interviewing college students about their thoughts and experiences regarding hooking up, pleasure, consent, and coercion in their own and others’ relationships. We’re interviewing both young men and young women and hope to shed greater light on this issue that’s often sensationalized in the media but too seldom understood within a deeper, critical analysis of culture and ideology.
Tell us about the study of Communication at UMass.
Many people misunderstand Communication as either a business-type major, focusing on marketing and PR, or as a technical training program, focusing on the how-to of technology and information systems. Communication in our department takes a critical, analytic approach to the study of communication as a social and cultural process underlying all forms of human interaction. Students in our department develop a strong foundation in social theory and research, looking at how various forms of communication shape our thinking about our worlds and ourselves.
The Department of Communication, and SBS in general, prepares students to be rigorous and innovative thinkers, informed and engaged citizens, and skilled and creative professionals. We teach students to think deeply about what matters to them and what it means to live in a just world, to think critically about the social structures and ideologies that inform their own and others’ experiences, and to pursue opportunities to develop the skills and insights they need to make a difference. Our students are challenged to think deeply and critically about the world in which they live and to express those insights through the individual and group work, writing, and public speaking opportunities woven through our curriculum.
Story and video by Taylor Gilmore '15 (communication/journalism)