What Does Interdisciplinary Mean?

I had the privilege of chatting with 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

Often I write freelance pieces to say something substantial and real in less than 500 words; in order to talk about an issues that matters to me in a less-academic, more-humany way; so that I don’t get bogged down in the grind of collecting data, writing, revisions, revisions, revisions. 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.

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. 

The Nerd in All of Us

This semester I had the privilege of writing for the grad school blog. One of my favorite writing assignments was talking to my fellow grad students about the nerds they used to be when they were young. It turns out grad school breeds the nerd in all of us in the best way possible. I am a year and a half into my grad school experience and I can say with confidence I finally am looking back at the little girl who wore wolf sweatshirts and always had bandaged bloody knees with much fondness.

Anal Sex, Cum Shots and College Kids: My first lecture

Last March I gave my first college-level guest lecture titled “Let’s Talk About Porn!” Before I settled on that title, I had tossed around other names for the 20-slides, one-hour long presentation about the history of technology and porn including the basic “Porn 101”, the provocative “Why we love internet porn,” and the ridiculous “Everything you ever wanted to know about cum shot.”

I settled on my Let’s Talk about Porn, only realizing after my talk that none of the 18 to 19 year olds in the class got my subtle Salt ‘N’ Pepa reference. I was just a decade older than this kids but I felt worlds apart. I grew up on Saved By the Bell style cell-phones, stir-up leggings and dial-up internet; they all had iPhones, skinny jeans and unfettered access to high speed internet (and porn) since puberty. What could I possibly teach them about porn that their sullied little eyes hadn’t already seen?

I started the lecture shaky with nerves and Starbucks Double Shots, but by the time I was showing the intro the 1980s classic “the yum-yum girls,” I felt I was on a role, doing what I do best: talking about sex to squirming groups of 300 freshmen at a large Midwestern university. Before I knew it I was giving my own little PSA about anal sex, carefully spelling out Nina Hartley’s- that’s h-a-r-t-l-e-y-‘-s- guide to anal sex, and directing them all to take their time and use a lot of lube.

I few weeks after the lecture, that the professor of the Media 101 class told me she witnessed half the class in utter rapture and the other half in sheer discomfort, wish that this lady would please stop talking about anything related to sphincter and bodily functions. As one of my students told me about her discomfort, “You know we all watch it so why talk about it.”

I think we must talk about it because of that 50% of the class enthralled with an honest conversation about porn. But I think more we need to talk about it for the 50% who were pained just hearing about sex. These are the kids I’m most worried will see porn, take it at face value and never talk about it with anyone else.

And there is so much we need to talk about. The myths in porn run rampant. In addition to frequent, easy, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am anal sex, there are oversized penises, under-haired vulvas, unnecessarily degrading money shots, and the ubiquitous female orgasm or at least extreme arousal from awkward angled penetration.

If kids are only watching porn but not talking about that porn (or sex for that matter) with anyone else, they are going to assume some pretty erroneous and possibly horrifying things about the norms of sexual behavior.

Last semester, my adviser was attempting to explain “penis worship” to a sweet girl from Jersey who was working on a porn analysis project with my adviser and me. My adviser explained how undo reverence particularly with the money shot was part of penis worship. She scrunched up her face slightly with confusion before she said “some girls might think that is just the natural end of sex.”

Of course, other students have different experiences. One male student said he thought that porn might only really influence those guys who “haven’t done it,” the it being the sex. He explained that having sex quickly takes the fantasy in porn that everything goes smoothly.

Another female student suggested that guys have asked her to act out “porn-like” situations but when she said no they respected her. She said it even opened up a dialogue about what they wanted from sex.

Of course these are just a few students’ experiences. The truth is we aren’t sure what the effect is on the sexual norms of our young adults. But what we do know is kids are watching porn.

During my lecture in the back of a class, a girl rolled her eyes and whispered to her seatmate, “Why is she assuming everyone watches porn.” A male student from behind her answered “Because she lives in reality where most people do.”


My New Identity: Grad Student


Look Mom! I’m a (social) scientist!

I’ve gotta brag a bit. My grad department is pretty flipping phenomenal. Not only do the grad students see to genuinely get along with each other but they are supportive of each other’s work. And on top of that the department also has a blog where two of our wonderful grad students post brief interviews with students. I sat down with Edo last week and the product was an interview titled “Niki Fritz, Feminist, among other things.” Not gonna lie, that’s pretty darn accurate. It’s still a little weird that in addition to all my other identities, I am now firmly positions in the “grad student/ scholar/ professional learner” category. It kind of rocks. Check out the interview here.