Eight Comm Majors Present Senior Honors Theses

Their subjects span the field of Communication, from intersectional identities on TikTok to the function of religion in American politics.

By Hailey Reissman

On April 5 and 12, eight Penn seniors presented their Communication theses to a panel of professors and guests, a culmination of their year-long work. The students wrote an honors thesis and/or a Communication and Public Service Capstone Thesis as a required part of their ComPS concentration. All will graduate with honors at Annenberg’s ceremony on May 14.

They also will be presenting their findings at a poster session tomorrow, Friday, April 28, from 10:30a.m. - 12:00pm in the plaza lobby at Annenberg.

The Communication thesis course lasts two semesters, and students are supervised by Kim Woolf, Ph.D. For the first semester, the students write research proposals that contain a literature review and detailed methodologies for their theses. During the second semester, the students complete data collection and write the thesis.

From the relationship between empathy and political attitudes to themes in country music, their subjects span the field of Communication.

2023 Student Theses

Gen Z Latinas on TikTok: Uncovering Their Complex Intersectional Identities

Ashley Blanco-Liz (C’23)

Ashley Blanco-Liz headshot

Faculty Supervisor: Jessa Lingel

By applying intersectionality theory, this thesis aims to examine the role intersectional identities play in how Gen Z Latinas evaluate Latina beauty and fashion representation on TikTok. A combination of thematic and opening coding was used to analyze 16 in-person in-depth interviews with Gen Z Latinas. The results revealed that different aspects of the participants’ identity played a role in how they see themselves and other Latinas represented in the TikToks particularly race and ethnicity.

From “Stand by Your Man” to “Better Man”: A Corpus-Linguistic Analysis of Female Country Music Artists’ Lyrics from 1959 to 2022 

Jonah Charlton (C’23)

Jonah Charlton headshot

Faculty Supervisor: Matthew Brook O’Donnell

This study explores how female country artists represent themselves and how representation and themes in lyrics have changed between 1959 and 2022. By employing a corpus linguistic methodology, 2,864 popular country songs by female artists were analyzed through quantitative and qualitative approaches, including unsupervised machine learning techniques. The findings reveal significant changes in themes across the 64-year period, specifically in regards to the topics of heartbreak, love, and moving on, signaling the importance of lyrics to popularity of songs.

Fake or Scripted?: Fact versus Fiction in Professional Wrestling's "Worked Shoots" from 1982-2022

Tommy Christaldi (C’23)

Tommy Christaldi headshot

Faculty Supervisor: Perry B. Johnson

In professional wrestling, a “worked shoot” is any event that convincingly blurs the lines between reality (or “shoots,” in wrestling parlance) and fiction (“work,” most of wrestling’s scripted content). Through textual analysis of five worked shoots, from 1982 to 2022, this thesis investigates continuity and change in their presentation, their purpose, the situations in which they are used, and the characteristics of the wrestlers and other personalities that have utilized them. 

Youth Participatory Action Research with Community-Based Organizations and Local Media

Jeffrey Fishman (C’23)

Jeffrey Fishman headshot

Faculty Supervisor: Andy Tan

Based in Communication Infrastructure Theory, my thesis aims to connect the Netter Center's mental health-focused youth participatory action research (YPAR) program with community-based organizations (CBOs) and local media groups in Philadelphia. I conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with youth participants in the Netter Center's YPAR program, representatives from youth mental health CBOs, and journalists from local media groups reporting on youth mental health. Through a thematic content analysis performed using NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software, I identified facilitators and barriers that influence the Netter Center's mental health YPAR program in building relationships with CBOs and local media groups. I also described wise practices to assure that these relationships remain sustainable.

Tax the Rich: Measuring the Effects of Education, Age, and Message Framing on the Relationship Between Empathy and Political Attitudes

Henry G. Katz (C’23)

Henry G. Katz headshot

Faculty Supervisor: David Eisenhower

The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between empathy, age, and education. Additionally, this study employed an experiment gauging contemporary America’s attitudes toward a fictitious economic package which would increase taxes on the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans. Using message framing strategies, specifically the loss and gain framing strategies, impact stories were crafted for participants to read and respond to. Responses were analyzed based on dispositional empathic concern, age, and education.

The 1957 Little Rock Crisis: Analyzing the Crisis Rhetoric of President Eisenhower and Governor Faubus

Celia Kreth (C’23)

Celia Kreth headshot

Faculty Supervisor: David Eisenhower

This study examines the role of crisis rhetorical classifications, functions, and styles between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus during the Little Rock Central High School Desegregation Crisis in 1957. This analysis employs a rhetorical criticism framework set forth by Kenneth Burke integrated with traditional Aristotelian rhetorical classifications. The results found more similarities than differences in the communication between Eisenhower and Faubus, indicating congruence, rather than conflict, in their crisis rhetorical strategies. 

The Child Care Connection: Popular Media Representations of Care and Mothers' Support of Potential Care Policies

Tara Shilkret (C’23)

Tara Shilkret headshot

Faculty Supervisor: Kathryn Higgins

My study quantitatively investigated any congruence between child care represented in today’s popular media and the potential U.S. child care policies that the people most impacted by policy shifts prefer. I created a typology categorizing child care behavior based on the care provider and conducted a two-part study. The first was a content analysis looking at the frequencies of different modes of child care behavior in recent popular media. The second was a survey asking middle/low income mothers about their support of policies that support the different modes of care. While family-provided child care is most prevalent in the popular media environment, these mothers most support policies funding government- and market-provided care.

God and the Burning Bush: American Civil Religion and Christian Themes in George W. Bush's War on Terror

Leanna Tilitei (C’23)

Leanna Tilitei headshot

Faculty Supervisor: David Eisenhower

This thesis examines the function of religion in American politics through the American civil religion framework. Using a textual analysis of four speeches President George W. Bush delivered after 9/11 and five New Testament chapters, the study explores how Bush leverages religious language to shape public perception of the war. The results suggest that Bush draws significant inspiration from the Christian mission to articulate the need for U.S. military action and the expansion of American culture and values beyond national borders.