Becoming Comprehensive

To say that comprehensive exams are exhausting is an understatement. I foolishly thought that because I was “just” reading 5 articles everyday and teaching only one course, I would still have plenty of energy at the end of the day for a 90 minute hot yoga class followed by prepping a gourmet meal. Instead, I found myself collapsing onto my sofa after a day of cognitive exhaustion. I was lucky if I had enough energy to pop a bag of popcorn.

That said, the process, including the two and a half hour defense, was extremely useful. At the end, I came away with an expert knowledge of Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) Objectification Theory and the specific health implications. After discussing my knowledge and interest with my committee, I have decided to move from a more mass media socialization approach to my studies to a health communication/ persuasion approach. I am extremely excited to start this new journey. I’m hopeful this new path will not only help me understand how we learn sexual health information but how we can improve sexual health knowledge through the media.

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First, First Author…Finally

Before entering academia, I did not understand why it took academics so long to publish a paper. In the freelance world, I had one or two week deadlines. In academia, “deadline” per se don’t exist, and it can take two to five years to get data published. In May of 2015 I finished my thesis data analysis. In April of 2017, almost two years later, my thesis was finally published in the journal, Sex Roles. I’m extremely thankful to my adviser, Dr. Bryant Paul, for all his work and encouragement, as well as my research team here at IU. It has been a a long-slow process but now it’s time to celebrate (before getting onto our next project!)  You can read my now published work on my published work page here. 

 

Creating Art from Data

My very talented colleague, YanYan Zhou, created this word cloud from the titles of our more than 5,000 pornographic videos. I think it does a beautiful job juxtapositioning the often vulgar language of pornography with a romantic image. Sometimes data can be beautiful!

porn word cloud.jpg

 

Becoming a Better Teacher through Trial and Error

This year I am a general assistant to the Grad Director, meaning I don’t have the opportunity to teach my own class. Luckily I’ve been invited to give guest lectures in classes ranging from Media and Society to Human Sexuality. Interacting with different students from different departments has been invigorating. So invigorating in fact that I have changed up my lecturing style.

I experimented on my first class last week. I asked them to do some free-style writing about how pornography in general made them feel. Then they talked in small groups. And then something magical happened. They talked. Almost the whole class from that moment on seemed engaged in the wider conversation. They pushed back with hard questions I had answers to and they asked a few questions that I hadn’t even begun to think about. It was the type of class that makes you want to claim and intellectual victory. Today, we learned something.

At the end of class, I asked them to do something I don’t normally solicit; I asked for feedback. I asked them what they liked, didn’t like, how they would change the lecture, and what arguments I made that they weren’t buying. Usually I don’t ask for feedback because often classrooms can be shallow and, let’s be honest, negative comments can do more damage than good sometimes. My experience over the years though has been to attempt to use feedback to improve the way I teach. This class though instead of the usual shallow complaints, filled their feedback with more questions they had, insisted that they wanted to go deeper and learn more. It was beautiful.

But more than that, I have to admit, that a few of their comments validated me as a teacher. They insisted that even though I could be a little too animated and excitable, they loved who I was and how I taught. Many called me passionate, funny and enjoyable. This one feedback that came to me in hot pink ink though, particularly impacted me. It read “Never change.” And while I can be certain that I just as much as this student will inevitably change as we are humans and that is what humans do, I think the sentiment was more “Don’t change for anyone else because you are teaching us valuable things.” The sentiment was that they have seen teachers grow weary of teaching, get dulled down and eventually stop talking over-excitedly too quickly about the rapid growth of anal sex in pornography. They want excited. They want honest. They want hot pink ink.

Although I know I will not always get positive feedback and I know my worth as a teacher cannot lay in the feedback from students, today this little piece of positive validation was what I need to continue down this sometimes obstacle filled path.

I’ve pinned the hot pink eval on my bulletin board as a reminder that sometimes I get it right.

never change

 

 

The New IU Media School: What Does Interdisciplinary Mean?

The Media School at Indiana University is starting the slightly painful process of transitioning from three unique, epistemologically separate departments into one massive interdisciplinary school. What this all means is still kind of a puzzle for many grad students entering their first year as PhD students. To be honest, my cohort and I have been struggling with understanding each other’s work and how we all can relate to each other.  I was lucky enough however to chat with former CMCL professor, Dr. Mary L. Gray, last week. We chatted about work outside academia, what it’s like to be a critical scholar in the Microsoft Research Lab, what humility looks like and of course about how great Bloomington, Indiana is. But what stuck me most about my conversation with Mary was how she approached interdisciplinary work.

I’ll let her do the talking here:

“To navigate interdisciplinarity is to see the strengths of the disciplines, know the tools of a specific discipline and see how you can use it,” Mary explains. “And to recognize that no matter how deeply you dive into the literature, that you will have your limits because of your core training. So what you bring to that conversation is not so much a mastery of that literature but a capacity to translate your work and understand the frameworks of another discipline.”

Perhaps slightly counter-intuitive to how we sometimes think of interdisciplinarity, Mary argues that the goal is not to get rid of disciplines and the divisions that come with them but to recognize the rigor and strengths of other disciplines and be open to the potential for other disciplines to help you better answer your question.

I can only hope more universities start merging communication departments and create interdisciplinary scholars who don’t see communication studies as a battle ground but instead a rich landscape for unique partnerships.

Read more about my chat with Mary here.

Writing about the things that matter: thesis versus pop press

I’m currently in the depths that is thesis analysis and writing. I am often stuck by how different this type of writing is from my former style of popular press freelance writing. While I now officially consider myself an academic, I still want to make sure my work and knowledge created in academia is relevant and translated to the public. Therefore I often find myself attempting to write freelance pieces to say something substantial and real in less than 500 words.  I write freelance pieces to stay grounded and connected to the world, so that I can remember why I joined academia and so that I can fuel my future work.

Even as I’m working on my thesis about sexual agency and objectification in pornography, I am still stretching my creative muscles. A piece I wrote recently in the RedEye is a prime example of this. The short article was about a recent study out of the University of South Dakota, which suggested that over 30% of young men would rape if they were never caught…and you didn’t call it rape. The study wasn’t that shocking to me. I know the difficulties of consent especially on college campuses. I know that masculinity is tied to sex in our culture, sex at any cost.

I wrote this piece to remind myself the impact that pornography can have on young people as well. It is not that I think pornography causes rape. I think hyper-masculinity and a society that refuses to have an open conversation about sex, causes rape. It is a society and a culture that drives our young people to pornography to learn about sex. And I guarantee that within porn young people are not learning about consent or healthy boundaries or a satisfying sex life.

Read more about how rape is a not a women’s issue but a hyper-masculinity issue here. 

Explicating Sexual Concepts for my First Content Analysis

How I feel when explicating the concept porngraphy for my first content analysis:

parks and rec and porn

For my thesis project, I have decided to do a content analysis comparing three different types of pornography: feminist, For Women, and Mainstream. I’m hoping to analyze concepts both of sexual objectification and agency. However, the first step in any content analysis is the very specific (and sometimes painful) process of explication. At first it was bizarre to have to be so specific about what each sexual act we were coding actually entailed. I didn’t know how to explicate “kiss” much less more complicated sexual concepts. The entire process of creating a code book to code and analyze over 5,000 pornographic videos has been challenging to say the least. I’m lucky I have an awesome team to work with. When we are done we will have a unique data set that will help researchers understand more the diverse content on online pornography including concepts ranging from sexual aggression to sexual pleasure!