GRADUATE STUDENTS PRODUCE
BOOK THAT EXAMINES MEDIA BIAS
Many doctoral students emerge from seminars with publishable papers to start them on their careers. Professor Elizabeth Toth, associate dean for academic affairs at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, wanted more for the six students who participated in the doctoral seminar on race, class, and gender in mass communications she offered in spring 1997. Each was responsible for one of the seminar’s three-hour sessions, producing about 100 pages of material to be distributed as advance readings for the session. “I thought this all might dovetail nicely if I challenged them to write a book,” Toth says. “It was really to walk through the exercise of how you would produce a book, and I thought we’d come out of the class with a prospectus for one. But ambitious students that they were, they wanted to write the book.”
The result, The Gender Challenge to Media: Diverse Voices From the Field,is being published by Hampton Press of Cresskill, New Jersey. Chapters reflect the diversity of the group that wrote them: B. Carol Eaton G’99 takes a look at sexism, racism, and class elitism in mass communications; Lisa M. Weidman G’94, G’99 relates “Tales from the Testosterone Zone”; Linda Aldoory G’99 documents the experiences of “The Standard White Woman in Public Relations”; James McQuivey talks about “The Digital Locker Room: The Young White Male as Center of the Video Gaming Universe”; Nate Clory Sr. ’96 gives a personal reflection on television’s messages and images; and Brenda J. Wrigley G’96, G’99 discusses portrayals of gays and lesbians in American mass media. Toth says all six students had worked as communications professionals prior to attending SU, and their firsthand experiences with issues of diversity and discrimination give the book significant credibility.
Wrigley, now an assistant professor of public relations at Michigan State University, considers the seminar one of the best classes she took at SU. “There were times when we became angry, upset, inspired, and challenged. It was never dull,” she says. “It was a lesson in communicating our differences and listening to others. It helped me to have the courage to self-identify as a gay woman to my colleagues in the class, to my faculty colleagues at Newhouse, and to others in the University community. Now I am an openly gay professor and able to speak freely about these issues in classes I teach that deal with these topics.”
Clory, the seminar’s lone master’s degree student, hopes the book will foster a heightened sense of responsibility among communications practitioners dealing with gender issues. “I know we’re supposed to try to attain a certain degree of objectivity in the creation of images and messages and the way we report goings-on in the world, but I don’t believe this is realistic or even the best course,” he says. “We must acknowledge that we are subjective creatures—we know what we know and like what we like. Once we realize that these biases and prejudices exist and take steps to address them, we’ll be better prepared to fairly create communications images and messages that portray everyone equitably.”
ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN/INTERIORS STUDENTS
MAKE TIMELESS CONNECTIONS IN FLORENCE
Lara Turney G’94 didn’t have to be asked twice to lead a summer program in Florence for the Division of International Programs Abroad (DIPA). She spent time there years ago on a European backpacking trek, then studied in Florence as a graduate student in the School of Architecture. Those experiences made her eager to return to the city with environmental design/interiors students last summer. “This was my first DIPA program, so I came into it fresh,” Turney says. “Having lived and studied in Italy, I was familiar with the country and the language, but teaching abroad is a much different experience. You are literally teaching history in its place.”
During Turney’s eight-week course, which will be offered again this summer, students study buildings, rooms, and spaces within the context of a historic yet completely modern city. “They see how interiors connect to exteriors—really analyze the buildings,” she says.
Students have no shortage of examples to observe, as the buildings in Florence represent architectural styles of timeless beauty and functionality. “There is so much to see—so much art history and architecture,” Turney says. “You could spend a lifetime there and not see everything.”
DIPA has offered an environmental design program in Florence for about 20 years. Turney built on the core elements of the program, tailoring her course to fit the needs of today’s students. It includes a series of vigorous walking tours of gardens, palaces, and urban structures in Rome, Pompeii, Vicenze, and Venice.
Last summer, Turney, colleague Jennifer Aldred, and 12 students spent three weeks on the road. “We made the most of the time we had,” Turney says. As they traveled and visited architectural and design landmarks, students kept detailed sketchbooks—a requirement that encourages them to develop a sense of visual discipline and sharpens their sketching and analytical skills, Turney says.
Students must also complete a design project that requires them to apply knowledge they acquired about the city during the tour. Last summer, students designed a temporary exhibit for the Mercato Nuovo—an outdoor market in Florence—that would fit into a theoretical millennium celebration.
In addition to the academic challenges, Turney enjoys seeing students partake in the cultural immersion that DIPA programs offer. “Last year, I encouraged some of my environmental design/interiors majors to go,” she says. “It was remarkable to see the transformation in them.”
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