Thirteen Communication Majors Present Senior Honors Theses

The subjects chosen by these 2024 honors graduates range from legislative speechcraft to endurance livestreamed spectacles to the effects of killer shark movies on environmental attitudes. 

By Gillian Duffalo

On April 10 and 17, senior Communication majors presented their year-long individual research projects to an audience of their advisors and peers. Each of the 13 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 in the major at Annenberg’s ceremony on May 19.

They will also be presenting their findings at a poster session, Friday, May 3, from 10:30am - 12:00pm in the plaza lobby at Annenberg. 

The Communication thesis course lasts two semesters, and students are supervised by Kim Woolf, Ph.D. or Eran Ben-Porath, 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 researching feminist empowerment through rock music to perceptions of generative AI, their subjects span the field of Communication.

2024 Student Theses

Beyond the Beat: Gender Inequity and the Music Business in the Age of Big Tech

Gabrielle Caine

Gabrielle Caine (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: David Grazian, Eran Ben-Porath

This study analyzes the presence of gender inequity within the music business in the modern age of technology. Changes in the industry’s workforce are analyzed through a framework of feminization. Utilizing interviews, fifteen female employees of major music business institutions explain how Big Tech and artificial intelligence products have impacted their roles. Findings suggest that gender equity is improving within the workforce, but new tech products may disproportionately target female segments of the business.

Different Shades of Black: A Critical Exploration of Black Caribbean Representation in American Film

Destiny Dennis

Destiny Dennis (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Zehra Husain, Kim Woolf

This research examines Black Caribbean identity in American film and how media representation is perceived by immigrants. Interpretive textual analyses of three films indicate themes of erasure of Black Caribbean voice in exchange for a Pan African, unified Black conception. Focus groups reveal the absence of positive portrayals of Black Caribbean culture, emphasizing prevalent stereotypes. As a result, Black Caribbeans experience discrimination and pressure to assimilate into African American culture.

Sustaining Sustainability: The Role of Interpersonal Networks of Community Care for Environmental Justice Activists 

Katie Francis

Katie Francis (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Sarah Jackson, Kim Woolf

This study seeks to better understand dynamics of burnout among environmental justice activists on college campuses across the US. I use interviews and autoethnographic reflection to understand how networks of sustainability are built and maintained. I found that organizational structures that cultivate feelings of agency and empowerment and interpersonal dynamics of community care are key in preventing and overcoming burnout.

The Underrepresentation of Black People in Catholic Media and Its Impact on African American Catholics 

Sheila Hodges

Sheila Hodges (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Florence Madenga, Eran Ben-Porath

My thesis aims to explore how African Americans are represented in Catholic media and its impact on how they perceive themselves and their place in the Catholic Church. I first conducted a visual and content analysis of two Catholic media sources. I then hosted 4 interviews with African American Catholics. Together the results suggest an underrepresentation of Black people in Catholic media and a negative, yet limited, impact on African American Catholics. 

Endurance Streaming: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Self-Commodification in Livestreamed Performance

Gemma Hong

Gemma Hong (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Guobin Yang, Eran Ben-Porath

This thesis identifies and examines a self-exploitative form of livestreaming that I have named “endurance streaming,” or livestreams in which broadcasters build upon the livestream’s core interface to co-produce a profit-motivated performance of endurance with their audiences. Using an interdisciplinary array of theory to examine one case study, this study argues that endurance streams are endemic of larger economic and socio technological circumstances that influence how content creators interact with the digital and real world.

Killer Shark Movies and the Environment: Examining Attitudinal and Behavioral Effects

Emma Marks

Emma Marks (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Dolores Albarracín, Kim Woolf

This thesis leveraged a survey-based experiment where participants were split into either a killer shark condition or a control condition to explore the impact of killer shark movies on people’s attitudes and behaviors towards the environment. I hypothesized that viewing killer shark movies would decrease the sympathy individuals have for the environment and negatively impact their attitudes and behaviors towards the natural world. Various statistical analyses were utilized to analyze the data from the survey and see if there were differences in respondents’ answers based on their assigned condition. While the results were not statistically significant for the attitudinal or behavioral parts of the hypothesis, the data did trend in the right direction, suggesting an extremely mild effect. 

Battle Speeches of the Republic: The Role of Leaders’ Rhetoric in the Initiation, Continuation, and Cessation of Acts of Aggression

Bekezela Mbofana

Bekezela Mbofana (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

This thesis explores how executive rhetoric precedes and aligns with defense actions, examining speeches from Bush, Bin Laden, Putin, and Biden during the War on Terror and the Russian-Ukraine conflict. Through comparative textual analysis and interviews with the diplomatic establishment, it aims to develop a framework for understanding the communication dynamics that drive the initiation, perpetuation, and conclusion of wars.

Mastering the Art of Persuasion: Analyzing Lyndon B. Johnson's Legislative Speechcraft and Strategic Communication Tactics

Rachel Miller

Rachel Miller (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

This thesis looked at how and why Johnson’s strategic communication tactics differed when trying to pass the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This research was conducted by traveling to the Johnson Library in Austin, Texas and carrying out a textual analysis of primary source documents such as speech drafts, meeting notes, and memos relevant to each of these three pieces of legislation.

Conceptualizing A-spec Community: Affinities, Well-being, and Advocacy within Asexual- and Aromantic-Spectrum Groups

Clara Papenfuse

Clara Papenfuse (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Jessa Lingel, Kim Woolf

This thesis explores group-specific connection and belonging, opinions of online spaces, a broader a-spec affinity, narratives of wellbeing, and the landscape of advocacy within locally-organized a-spec groups. I conducted three focus groups and one individual interview across three sites: two college campuses and one city-wide site in the Northeast and Midwest US. Participants largely felt they could be their full, relaxed selves; they prioritized networks of support; and they shared that visibility is still so important for this community.

Above the Fold: Defining News Worthiness with Artificial Intelligence

Sam Pasco

Sam Pasco (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Matt O’Donnell, Eran Ben-Porath

My thesis explores the intersection of newsrooms and AI, focusing on how newsrooms will incorporate AI and what the future will look like. Central to this inquiry is the development of a Large Language Model (LLM) system designed to assist newsrooms in sorting through stories efficiently. This study delves into both current newsroom practices and the potential for AI integration, seeking to understand the nuances of editorial decision-making, the news selection process, and criteria for determining newsworthiness. Through interviews with industry professionals and empirical research, the thesis aims to provide a comprehensive view on the evolving dynamics between journalists and AI technology, culminating in the creation of a tool that allows journalists to re-center on news values over click engagement/ad-profit.

Chronicles of Fatherhood: Temporal Shifts in Paternal Masculinity on TV

Sarika Rau

Sarika Rau (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Murali Balaji, Eran Ben-Porath

My thesis explores the portrayal of paternal masculinity and fatherhood in television narratives through a content analysis of key episodes from contemporary shows (The Mandalorian & Black-ish) and Cold War-era shows (M*A*S*H & Father Knows Best), revealing a shift towards more nurturing representations of paternal masculinity over the past decades. In my analysis, I argue that this trend is a reflection of the release of societal tensions following the end of the Cold War.

Perception vs. Practice: A Comparative Study of Professors’ Views and Undergraduate Use in the Integration of Generative AI

Madison Smith

Madison Smith (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon, Kim Woolf

This study explores undergraduate use of generative AI at the University of Pennsylvania as compared with professor’s perceptions of their use. 347 undergraduates and 18 professors were surveyed about their usage and opinions surrounding the technology. Their responses were analyzed to determine common themes within the groups and differences between them. The findings reveal high prevalence of generative AI awareness and use, highlighting the need for further examination of how generative AI will impact undergraduate education.

Amped Up: Rock Music as a Platform for Feminist Empowerment

Giselle Wagner

Giselle Wagner (C’24)

Thesis Advisors: Sarah Banet-Weiser, Eran Ben-Porath

This study aims to explore the intersections between rock music, gender, and feminism. Through following a framework outlined by three waves of feminism, this thesis presents six case studies of female rock musicians and situates them in a greater social and cultural context. This study discovers the ways in which the genre has been used as a platform for amplifying female voices and spreading feminist empowerment.