During the 2019-2020 school year, Communication Studies faculty members Susan Mello, Elizabeth Glowacki, and Patricia Davis received CAMD Grants for their notable, outstanding projects. Since receiving the grant, the three have made considerable strides of progress on their project goals. Associate Professor Mello and Assistant Teaching Professor Glowacki are working together to research the spread of information about the COVID-19 vaccine through social media. Meanwhile, Associate Professor Davis received a grant for her exhibition created as part of Northeastern’s antiracism initiatives.
Sue Mello and Elizabeth Glowacki
Evaluating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Risk Communication Strategies: A Content Analysis of Social Media Messages Spread During the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Pandemic
Mello and Glowacki’s project utilizes evidence-based risk communication principles to examine the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) and World Health Organization’s (WHO) social media messaging strategies during the 2019 coronavirus outbreak. Utilizing quantitative content analysis, they describe features on Instagram and examine message framing strategies through the attribution of responsibility and cultural values. They have also been navigating the efforts to counter misinformation and attempts to cultivate public perceptions of threat and efficacy through video and text throughout the pandemic.
Throughout the project, Glowacki collected many resources from literature, while Mello designed their codebook and ran their statistical analyses. Nicole Reading, an undergrad at CAMD, aided the two in collecting articles for the literature review and developed a COVID timeline during the project’s initial phase. The two also trained their content coders CAMD alumni Jenn Seabolt and Isabella Fuentes. The content analysis involved collecting, reviewing, and coding messages spread by the organization’s social media messaging platforms, where many Millennials and Gen Z, two groups detrimental to reducing the spread of the virus, spend their time.
The project is aimed to assess how well the CDC and WHO have adopted persuasive strategies for effective health communication. It will serve as an external and objective check on their work while also providing insight into differences in their communication styles.
“The main goal is to be able to offer constructive feedback to the professionals working tirelessly on these accounts.” Mello states. “Publishing the results will also help students like ours learn best practices from a lived experience, and also provide useful context for other researchers examining COVID information exposure and health behaviors during that time period.”
Their dataset includes posts from the first year of the pandemic, January to December 2020, so there is no data to report on the more recent Delta variant and limited information on vaccination. The data did provide many significant findings, though, such as the fact that WHO created more content that emphasized collective efficacy— what groups of people can do to stop the spread of COVID-19— compared with the CDC who created posts intended to capture self-efficacy— what individuals can do to protect themselves. It was also found that both the CDC and WHO may not have taken full advantage of the visual communication component that Instagram offers given that the captions contained more persuasive information than the visuals did. This helps facilitate future discussions about designing messages that resonate with platform users.
Future studies are prospected to examine and compare how the CDC and WHO use persuasive messaging strategies to boost vaccination rates, especially during this time of elevated risk for the unvaccinated.
Marginal Bodies: Women of Color, Representation, and the Struggle for Citizenship and Belonging, 1920-2020
Davis’s project is a visual exhibit detailing the historical representation of African American women in popular culture during the last one hundred years. The exhibit includes a timeline with a combination of images and written historical context and enables viewers to make the connection between popular representation and the broader societal inequities that define contemporary society.
Of the works displayed, one of them comes from Deborah Willis, an African American artist and photographer. Willis has compiled many outstanding photos of African Americans for her book Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present and her book co-authored by Carla Williams titled The Black Female Body: A Photographic History.
As images wield tremendous influence in shaping debates over public policies, they have traditionally been used to marginalize African Americans and other disenfranchised groups from common notions of citizenship and belonging. They have been mobilized in both the enactment of and resistance to structures of racial hierarchy. The exhibition will encourage viewers to connect the symbolism embedded in images to the material realities of the depicted subjects. It will include a range of images that appeared in various media spheres, including film, television, theater, print advertising, newspapers, and magazines.
Davis also worked in collaboration with her two assistants, Northeastern students Leylanah Mitchell and Brittany Clottey. The two played a significant role in planning, developing, and staging the exhibit utilizing archival collections.
“The process has been a long one, and I am very happy to see it coming to fruition soon!” Davis exclaims. “There have been months of meetings, lots of reading, and a test run on the exhibit at the O’Bryant Center in May. It has definitely been a learning experience, especially in terms of the work that goes into a project like this.”
The initial staging of the Exhibit was supposed to be in May 2021. However, due to the pandemic, the exhibition date got pushed to later in the year.
The exhibit will tentatively take place on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, and will be on display for about a week and a half. It will be staged at various locations, including the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute and Ryder Hall.