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DEI-Focused Microgrants Spur Research, Programming, and Creative Work at SOC

The Race and Communication Exploration (RACE) Matters Initiative seeks to sustain and build upon racially equitable and inclusive organizational practices.

The School of Communication is honored to announce the recipients of the 2023-2024 SOC "RACE Matters” Grants. This grants program was created several years ago to both support and promote the work of SOC faculty and staff. SOC Interim Dean Leena Jayaswal said she was “delighted to be able to bring back the SOC Race Matters grants program this year as a key element in SOC’s strategic investment to further scholarship, creative work, and other activities that advance our understanding of communication and race at a time when social and political changes make it imperative for us to know more about these issues.” This year’s pool represents the best in projects that focus on communication, race relations, racial justice issues, as well as projects that adopt an “intersectional lens” on race and other traditionally marginalized, underrepresented groups and identities. Grantees include both individual faculty and faculty and staff teams. Here are this year’s recipients (in alphabetical order by project title):

“Alice C. Fletcher: At the Intersection of Immigration, Indigenous Peoples, and Late 19th Century Activism” 

  • Kylos Brannon

Alice C. Fletcher was an enthnomusicologist for the Smithsonian and this short documentary will feature her work and life including the stories of the indigenous people she championed. The film will explore Fletcher’s work as a social scientist, advocate, partner, and figure of “fraught historical significance.” Overall, Brannon will explore, “did her work ultimately help or hurt the cultures she examined?” This initiative will build on research conducted as part of Rorschach Theater’s Psychogeographies projects.

“Antisemitic Hate Speech on YouTube”

  • Wendy Melillo

This work studies communication and race through the lens of online antisemitic hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League’s online hate report noted that antisemitic hate speech rose 36 percent from 2021, reaching “historic levels.” Antisemitic assaults in 2022 increased 26 percent. White supremacist propaganda activity online plays a significant role. This grant will fund a researcher to explore antisemitic speech in YouTube videos. This effort is associated with the larger interdisciplinary “Unmasking Antisemitism” project, which is part of AU’s Signature Research Initiative (SRI).

“The Climate Story Gaps Project”

  • Rosalind Donald, Malini Ranganathan, Aarushi Sahejpal, and Wesley Lowery

A collaboration of four professors will examine the “climate” conversation rooted in Washington, D.C. The team will look at black communities east of the Anacostia River, where residents are most concerned with “problems that connect with climate change indirectly such as gentrification, food deserts, police relations, or the effects of heat and ozone pollution on asthma.” This project will examine “story gaps”—and ask: “What stories relevant for understanding the unintuitive intersections between climate and everyday life can be identified in the experiences of residents in DC” and “how can this information be used to identify these story gaps and co-create new stories with the potential to mobilize and unite communities in the service of climate justice?” The team will analyze media coverage as well as oral histories to discover how media outlets talk about climate change in different areas of the city and compare these narratives with the actual experiences of the residents.

“Journalistic Standards and Practices, in light of Non-Extractive Values”

  • Patricia Aufderheide, Amy Eisman, and Wesley Lowery

A collaboration that plans to “research the values expressed in standards and practices documents for mainstream journalism.” The goal is to explore how these documents align with “core diversity issues of representation, duty of care, and exploitation in public affairs documentaries.” In particular, this team’s work will explore “productive discussion and change that can both defend journalistic autonomy and recognize duty of care to participants and non-extractive values.”

“Metropolitan News Deserts: Who Should Own the News?”

  • Margot Susca

A three-pronged project, Susca’s work will explore “metropolitan news deserts, which are places in the United States with high-functioning news media ecosystems that abandon coverage of minoritized and marginalized groups.” “Washington, D.C. is a metropolitan news desert.” Susca asks, “what is at stake for democracy?” To better understand these trends, this project will examine coverage from The Washington Post Metro section over the last 12 months.

“Missing Data in Neural Networks: Implications for Racial Equity in Extremism Research and the Prediction of Violence”

  • Kurt Braddock and Aarushi Sahejpal

Braddock and Sahejpal proposed a study that will use existing dataset to “demonstrate the degree to which missing data biases decision-making perpetuate unhelpful and misleading stereotypes” as well as “explore the degree to which it is possible to predict an individual’s use of violence as a means of resolving political grievance.” To do this, Braddock and Sahejpal will use data that was developed by the University of Maryland, called the “Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the US (PIRUS) dataset.

“Navigating and Surmounting Barriers in a Non-Inclusive Workplace-Discussion and Workshop; Video”

  • Tia Milledge, Grace Ibrahim, Veronica Castro, and Kati Vera

A staff-led initiative, this project will include both a workshop and the creation of a video on concerns SOC students have about entering a workforce that may include discriminatory or non-inclusive colleagues or cultures. Students, as well as alums from various media industries will be included in this project to share personal experiences and trepidations. The video will also be given to the Career Center to support their efforts in helping students navigate through these issues and challenges.

“Our Chance to Play” – A Conversation on Race and Gaming

  • Steven Dashiell, Benjamin Stokes, Andy Phelps

This project is a collaboration and “will organize a broad conversation on the topic of gaming and people of color.” Though games and gaming has grown the past four decades, p eople of color are distinctly under-presented in this field and vitally missing from game studies. The Game Center plans to hold a one-day seminar on the topic of gaming and “ethnoracial representation” next spring. The event will be partly regional, but with a goal of affecting the national conversation on games and beyond. It will also bring different aspects of the regional gaming community to talk openly and explicitly about the issue and move forward.

“The Test”: Film Festival and Public Engagement Campaign

  • Claudia Myers and Laura Waters Hinson

Myers’ and Hinson’s short film, “The Test,” tells the story of a Ghanaian maintenance technician at a Virginia retirement community who dreams of becoming an American citizen to provide a better life for his family. In this 15-minute documentary, the technician enlists the help of two elderly residents to help him prepare for his U.S. Citizenship exam. Co-directed and co-produced by these two FMA professors, the film has already been recognized at various festivals. This grant will help grow the impact of The Test on a range of different audiences.

“What If: Imaging Diversified Computational Social Science in Communication, A Symposium”

  • Chelsea Butkowski and Aarushi Sahejpal

Butkowski and Sahejpal plan to hold a symposium dedicated to cultivating marginalized voices within Computational Social Science. This field is historically dominated by whiteness and specific parts of it such as data science, have low diversity among gender, race, and ethnic lines. Issues like systemic bias and lack of diversity in selection of datasets and topics are compounded when the field lacks a group of diverse scholars. The panel, open to faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students across the school’s divisions, will spotlight the research and perspectives of four media researchers and journalists doing the work of building diversity in CSS.

Congratulations to all our recipients and all the best with your projects!