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Northwestern School of Communication
SoC leaders shared their research at the second annual symposium series CommConnections

SoC leaders shared research at second annual CommConnections symposium

Three School of Communication scholars and leaders in their respective fields shared their research at the second annual faculty symposium series, CommConnections: Health, Hope, and Empowerment in Communication.

Bonnie Martin-Harris, the Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the associate dean for faculty affairs for the SoC, associate professor of communication studies Moya Bailey, and associate professor of theatre Elizabeth Son shared their work and, in a post-lecture panel, discussed their continued efforts to provide hope, empowerment, and health measures to their communities.

These scholars were selected to present together because their work touches on populations often ignored or forgotten,” said SoC Dean E. Patrick Johnson. “Health, hope, and empowerment are better achieved when partnerships can form across methodologies and research barriers and that’s what we hope to encourage here today.”

He joined Molly Losh, the Jo Ann G. and Peter F. Dolle Professor of Learning Disabilities and associate dean for research as the host and organizers of the symposium held at the Rebecca Crown Center’s Hardin Hall on May 11.

A clinician and former president of the Dysphagia Research Society, Martin-Harris was introduced first to share her research on swallowing disorders, or dysphagia. A relatively common condition, the causes of dysphagia range from heartburn and acid reflux to mouth or throat cancer. Approximately 9 million people in the United States have dysphagia but it is more common in older generations.

During her lecture titled "Advocacy and Evidence for Survivors of Dysohagia," Martin-Harris shared how early in her career she realized there was no standard evaluation method for the assessment of dysphagia. This meant that patient diagnoses and treatment varied from doctor to doctor, if they were assessed at all. A lot of people who had the condition were misdiagnosed and misunderstood. She made it her mission to design a standard tool for swallowing evaluations in the hopes that a streamlined method would lead to ease of patient care.

“As a clinician, when I develop materials, I always look for something that was not only pragmatic but meaningful,” Martin-Harris said.

Using grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, Veterans Affairs, and the Mark and Evelyn Trammell Foundation, Martin-Harris and her team developed a seventeen-question method for assessing dysphagia and then translated it into a clinical tool for doctors worldwide to conduct evaluations and prescribe plans of treatment effectively on their own. Videos shown at the end of her lecture emphasized how her work has both empowered and improved the quality of life of dysphagia patients the world over.

Bailey is an author, digital alchemist, and the board president of Allied Media Projects, a network that supports activist and organizer movements using media. She coined the word “misogynoir” which means “hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against Black women.” Bailey was recently honored by the addition of the word to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In her lecture, “Misogynoir Transformed through Dialogue,” she spoke about how some content, specifically certain web shows written by both queer and straight Black women, have addressed the phenomena in a way that centers Black women and their lives instead of the traumatic nature of misogynoir.

“These web shows speak to communities not acknowledged in mainstream media,” Bailey explained. “It is a realness redefined because the viewers are accepted into worlds where misogynoir is not centrally addressed.”

The case study for her lecture was the web show Lovers & Friends, a series that follows six queer Black women as they navigate life. She pointed to the language used in a character’s therapy session as one of the ways the show encourages Black women to heal from the trauma of misogynoir without asking them to relive it.

Bailey ended her time by affirming that this is the kind of media that we all deserve but especially marginalized communities need, referencing the symposium’s theme of hope, mental health, and empowerment.

Finally, Son discussed her work as an author and public scholar in her talk, “The Art of Remembrance and Justice.” She highlighted her time as a scholar-in-residence at KAN-WIN, a Chicago-based agency that specializes in serving Asian American and immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. While there, Son advocated for the survivors of Japan’s “comfort women,” the more than 100,000 women that Japan forced into prostitution during World War II.

“The avoidance of redress in Japan, and the United States, has galvanized survivors and the organizations that support them,” Son said. “They are now demanding reparations, monetary compensation, and apologies. This is now a vibrant transnational moment for survivors.”

Son now fights to keep the memories of these women alive through what she calls “public humanities in action.” She referenced fellow activists’ use of art and performance to highlight the issue in protests and marches. Some protestors even dressed up as the "Statue of Peace," a bronze statue of a comfort woman created by Korean sculptor Kim Eun-sung that stands in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea.

Son ended her remarks by warning the audience to “never underestimate the power of performance, engaging others, and sitting alongside those that need it.”

As the afternoon drew to a close, SoC associate professor Marcela A. Fuentes moderated a post-lecture panel about the overlapping themes of the lectures’ work.

The scholars agreed that their research gave their communities hope for the future.

"Hope is a discipline and an ongoing practice,” says Dr. Bailey describing the scholars’ work. “So, as we move towards a new reality the process is where we get to the mechanism of healing.”

Fuentes said that the empowerment of hope was the afternoon’s throughline because each scholar saw the physical and mental health of their communities as a call to action.

"Hope is the methodology,” Dr. Fuentes said. “So, when we identify the problem, we can then identify ways to not leave people behind.”