Shawnika Hull (Ph.D. '10) to Speak at Annenberg’s 2024 Communication Major Graduation Celebration

An expert in health communication and advocate for communities impacted by HIV, Hull will deliver the alumni address to our graduates.

By Hailey Reissman

The Annenberg School for Communication is pleased to announce that Shawnika Hull (Ph.D. ‘10), Associate Professor of Communication at Rutgers University, will be the featured alumni speaker at its graduation celebration for Communication majors on Sunday, May 19. 

An accomplished researcher, Hull has used her expertise in health communication, honed at Annenberg, to uncover how communication can foster health equity, particularly in the context of HIV prevention.

Hull was an undergrad at the University of Arizona when she first started thinking seriously about studying communication, spurred on by a course taught by Annenberg alum Robin Nabi (Ph.D. ‘98).

“One day in class, I kept asking Robin questions about dissonance,” Hull recalls. “I gave her a bit of a hard time about it. After class one day, she pulled me aside and said, “You need to go to grad school.’ I had never even thought of grad school as an option.”

Nabi introduced Hull to Annenberg Professor Joseph Cappella, who happened to be on sabbatical in Arizona. Cappella encouraged her to apply and after graduation, she did.

Cappella ended up becoming her dissertation chair at Annenberg.

HIV Prevention

Hull believes it is crucial for health communication researchers to collaborate with the communities that their research affects.

“Early in my career, I realized I was doing my work in a vacuum,” she says. “I wasn’t getting to know the people who would see the messages I was designing, or the kinds of organizations that I imagined would use them. So I started intentionally building meaningful relationships with community organizations focused on HIV prevention and health equity and working with them.”

This led her on a path to collaborating with clinicians, patients, and community leaders in every aspect of her research. Her work is better for it, she says.

Over 20% of the people living with HIV in the U.S. are women and Black women are disproportionately affected, accounting for half of new HIV diagnoses in women.

Hull’s most recent work is a pilot of a program in which Black women talk to one another about strategies to prevent HIV infection, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication taken to reduce a person’s chance of getting HIV.

“PrEP is a groundbreaking method for HIV prevention,” Hull says. “It was approved for women in 2014, but most Black women don’t even know it exists and many doctors are loath to discuss it with women, especially Black women. This is a communication problem that we can solve by applying theory in practice.”

Hull’s research on the pilot program, “Sistas Informing Sistas about Topics on AIDS and Prevention,” was awarded a prestigious K01 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Her hope is that it will be implemented in cities across the United States in the short term.

Harnessing Communication

Hull became a researcher because she wanted to tackle injustices, and she believes that communication can do that.

“I grew up watching the AIDS crisis unfold,” she says. “When I started studying communication, I had an epiphany: communication is everywhere; it is central to everything. It's powerful. If we can harness it, then we can do something meaningful.”

The Communication Major Graduation Celebration and luncheon will be held on Sunday, May 19, 2024 at 11:30am in the Benjamin Franklin ballroom of the Sheraton University City.