MA in Communication
Selection of Honors Theses

Adrienne Ammerman

Reproductive Health at School-Based Health Centers: Two Case Studies in Crisis Communications

Abstract: Controversy surrounding reproductive health issues at school-based health centers (SBHCs) arises frequently at the community level and in the news media, and can have lasting repercussions for the strength and sustainability of the movement. In this thesis I present two case studies of reproductive health communications crises at SBHCs. The case studies feature in-depth interviews of key stakeholders involved in the crisis, as well as textual analysis of internal and external communications documents and news media coverage. In both cases no one was harmed, the law was on the side of the SBHC, and the SBHC eventually had the support of the community – including parents and students. In both cases the media incited much of the crisis, and the interviewees perceived the resulting coverage – particularly at the national level – as highly sensationalized. The first case had much more extensive and negative coverage than the second case, with more serious repercussions on national SBHC policy. It is possible that the manner in which SBHC stakeholders managed the crisis had some impact on the tenor and duration of the news coverage, as well as the resulting political backlash (or lack thereof). A surprising finding of this study is the extent to which, in retrospect, the interview participants viewed the crises as positive events for themselves personally and for school-based health care. Read the full paper.

Courtney Billet

What Does Adolescent Fiction Communicate About Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and ADHD-Related Stigma?

Abstract: Because stigma can negatively affect adolescents living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), communication practitioners must understand the sources and content of messages that contribute to stigma and to work to counteract them.  Examining portrayals of ADHD in adolescent fiction offers insight into one source of meaning about the disorder.  Previous studies by Leon (1997), Demetrulias (2000), and Prater, Johnstun, and Munk (2005) have examined portrayals of ADHD in adolescent fiction but did not specifically examine stereotypes and stigma.  This study employs qualitative content analysis to evaluate five works of adolescent fiction as vehicles for gaining understanding about ADHD.  Specifically, this study examines how adolescent novels describe symptoms, management of symptoms, and causes of ADHD and the long-term prognosis for characters with the disorder.  The study also examines stereotypical and anti-stereotypical qualities assigned to characters with ADHD and evaluates how these characters encounter and manage ADHD-related stigma using communication.  This analysis reveals that adolescent fiction sends incomplete or mixed messages about ADHD and could exacerbate rather than alleviate stigma.  These findings expand understanding of ADHD-related narratives circulating in contemporary society and may inform future entertainment-education efforts to counter ADHD-related stigma.  Future research should include examinations of how these messages are received and internalized by adolescent audiences and the extent to which similar messages occur in other media such as contemporary television and film. Read the full paper.

Stephanie J. Casway

Contraception Myths and Their Influences: A Focus Group Approach

Abstract: In the United States, a total of 70% of pregnancies among unmarried women in their twenties are unplanned, and research suggests that myths about contraception may be a factor. Using focus groups of young women, aged 19-29 years, this study examined myths about contraception, the factors young women take into account when making decisions about contraception, how young women perceive different communication channels providing information about contraception, and how young women perceive possible interventions to decrease contraception myth. Focus group discussions revealed four main findings: confusion over contraception myth is common, young women consider multiple factors when making decisions about contraception, young women do not have a preferred communication channel for accessing information on contraception, and young women want interventions to help increase contraception knowledge and/or decrease contraception myth. Based on these findings, it is suggested that those interested in decreasing unplanned pregnancy among young women pay attention to contraception myth, the role of the social network in contraception decisions, and use cutting edge intervention techniques. These findings may allow health communication professionals to design more appropriate interventions to decrease contraception myth and unplanned pregnancy among young women. Read the full paper.

Victoria Cook

Chinese Millennials Perceptions of Credibility Toward Traditional and Social Media

Abstract: This study examined Chinese Millennials’ reported use of social media, blogs, and traditional state-run media in print and online as well as their perceived credibility of these mediums as sources of current events information. A convenience sample of 127 Chinese Millennials, aged 18 to 33, was surveyed using an online questionnaire. Media use, perceived credibility, and demographic information were measured. Results demonstrated that Chinese Millennials prefer online sources, especially social media, to print sources for information; Chinese Millennials find traditional state-run sources, both in print and online, to be more credible than online sources. Despite the increased use of independent online sources, traditional state-run sources have maintained a reputation for trustworthiness among Chinese youth. Read the full paper. Read the full paper.

Alyssa Deffenbaugh

A Case Study of Organizations’ Persuasive Efforts with the Syrian Opposition

Abstract: This case study compared a Switzerland-based non-governmental organization (NGO) and a U.S. based NGO’s persuasive efforts with the Syrian armed opposition to cease their practice of killing and harming civilians (civilian targeting). The Swiss NGO portion entailed in-depth interviews with staff and a training partner as well as a qualitative content analysis of campaign videos, training booklets and modules, a conference report, a strategy document, and opposition authored code of conduct documents. The U.S. NGO portion involved an in-depth interview with an expert from its Middle East office and a qualitative content analysis of organizational press releases, full reports, and letters as well as opposition authored letters to the U.S. NGO. The findings revealed that the Swiss and U.S. NGOs had some similar approaches including utilizing some of the same social media channels, advocating costs for committing civilian targeting, and emphasizing their neutrality in their organizations’ portrayal. Alternatively, other aspects of their approaches differed such as the degree to which they relied on interpersonal networks and written communiqués as channels, if they primarily leveraged direct messaging or both direct and indirect messaging, if they emphasized the benefits of ceasing civilian targeting, how they leveraged partnerships, and their commitment strategies. The Swiss NGO’s dissemination channels included meetings and trainings that incorporated techniques such as role playing, campaign videos, and booklets; future channels will leverage mobile apps and card games. The U.S. NGO’s channels comprised written communiqués, Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Both NGOs addressed the opposition’s hostile attitudes towards civilian Alawites and civilian regime supporters. The Swiss NGO directly messaged opposition groups and tailored messages to a group’s views of international and Islamic laws; messages stressed the costs of committing civilian targeting and the benefits of ceasing the behavior. Alternatively, the U.S. NGO directly messaged opposition groups about the costs of civilian targeting and indirectly messaged certain opposition groups, by reaching out to third parties, such as Gulf states, with perceived influence on these groups on ways to inflict costs on them for their civilian targeting. Both NGOs placed a priority on portraying their neutrality. The Swiss NGO relied on local Syrian partners to gain access and build trust with opposition groups, while the U.S. NGO leveraged partnerships to bolster messaging around the costs of civilian targeting. Additionally, the Swiss NGO, adopting a long-term approach, used formal and informal commitment strategies depending on the opposition group. The U.S. NGO presented opposition groups with opportunities to make public written commitments to stop their civilian targeting. Finally, various recommendations are offered for communication practitioners seeking to influence the opposition and similar armed non-state actors including: employing channels such as interpersonal networks, Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; segmenting opposition audiences based on a group’s beliefs, attitudes, or nationalities; messaging groups about the costs of conducting civilian targeting and the benefits of ceasing the behavior; partnering with organizations opposition groups trust; and pursuing long-term approaches that empower opposition groups to make commitments to civilian protection. Read the full paper.

Kali M. Duggins

Obama’s Plagues: A Qualitative Content Analysis of White House Messaging in Response to Ebola and Zika

Abstract: Over the last two years, Ebola and Zika have made international headlines and been the focus of a storm of legislation, media attention and public concern in the United States. As each disease threatened the United States mainland, President Barack Obama and his Administration were forced to contend with the challenges of logistics, funding, public safety and the prevention of panic. This thesis explores messaging from the Obama White House during the Ebola and Zika crises in an effort to analyze how each disease was handled individually and how their handlings compare. Two major questions of this thesis are whether the Obama White House learned lessons from the Ebola experience that were applied to the Zika response and whether public and media criticisms of White House response lead to any alterations in actions or messaging. This analysis reveals that while it is unclear whether there was marked improvement in messaging between Ebola and Zika, there were distinct differences in how the administration responded to Zika. An important finding of this thesis is an overall lack of academic examination of the United States government’s handling of these two public health crises from a communication studies perspective. This gap in literature and research makes this analysis relevant especially to communication practitioners and academics, and also to leaders across the interconnected fields of politics, policy and public health. This thesis suggests that the bridge necessary as multiple disciplines prepare for future epidemics is communication. Read the full paper.

Michiko Izawa

What Makes Viral Videos Viral: Roles of Emotion, Impression, Utility, and Social Ties in Online Sharing Behavior

Abstract: With the proliferation of social media, it is now easier than ever for anyone to share information with many people at once, causing some content to be consumed by an enormous audience solely by being forwarded from one to another virally. This study focused on YouTube videos as a form of content and examined what makes people share them online through their social networks. The online survey was conducted with 176 participants, who watched two videos on YouTube, answered whether they had shared or would share each video using various social media, and rated each video in terms of emotions aroused, impressions aroused, and utilities served by the video. They also assessed how frequently they used each type of social media and how close they felt to the people they were connected with through each medium. Results revealed that those who had shared or would share the videos felt happiness, humor, surprise, fear, sadness, and anger more strongly than those who had not shared or would not share the videos. Those more likely to share also found the videos more enjoyable, intense, informative and less provocative; thought the videos were useful, important for society, and reflected their tastes; and anticipated that people would feel happy and grateful to them for sharing the videos. Also, it was suggested that people tend to share content using the social media they use most frequently and they feel stronger connections with others through. Read the full paper.

Sandra Paredes

Cultural Health Hybrid: An Exploration of Changing Health Beliefs and Attitudes among Hispanic and Hispanic American Women

Abstract: Using two focus groups with 8 Hispanic and 9 Hispanic American women, this study compared health beliefs and attitudes between Hispanic and American women. This study identified strategies that both groups of women use to negotiate health information from two distinct health cultures: traditional Hispanic culture and American clinical culture. Findings indicate that both Hispanic and Hispanic American women see health as having a physical and psychological component, see themselves as responsible for protecting their health, and practice preventive behaviors. However, Hispanic American women do not believe in culture-bound syndromes the way Hispanic women do, nor do Hispanic American women believe in a connection between culture-bound syndromes and chronic disease. Interestingly, both groups of women adapt to a clinical health culture in their own way. Hispanic women adopt clinical practices while maintaining their traditional practices. In contrast, Hispanic American women pick and choose practices from traditional and clinical health culture. This study proposes the theory of cultural health hybrid to examine changing health attitudes and beliefs in Hispanic and Hispanic American women. Read the full paper.

Carolyn Perry

No Relationship Is Safe”: In-Depth Interviews with HIV-Positive Black Women

Abstract: Through in-depth interviews with 12 HIV-positive African American women, this study explored the perceptions of HIV/AIDS prevention messages from the perspective of those for whom prevention efforts failed. Findings indicate that current HIV/AIDS prevention messages are neither informative nor prevalent enough to adequately connect with at-risk black women. Further, a surprising one-half of the women in the study revealed that they had been infected through unprotected intercourse with men they believed were long-term, monogamous partners. Results also suggest that the female condom could be a popular, empowering tool for increasing safe sex in black women. Future HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns should seek to increase condom use among women in relationships and promote the convenience and pleasure associated with the female condom. Read the full paper.