Twelve Comm Majors Complete Honors Theses

The students presented their theses findings in-person, and will share them at a poster session on April 29.

Twelve undergraduate Communication majors are completing a senior thesis this year, and recently presented their work to an audience their peers and academic advisors. For the first time since 2019, these presentations were made in person at the Annenberg School.

Eleven of these Penn seniors wrote an honors thesis, and one wrote a Communication and Public Service (ComPS) thesis. All will graduate with honors at Annenberg’s Communication major graduation ceremony on May 15. They also will be presenting their findings at a poster session next Friday, April 29 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., and 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 Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Boomer-generation rhetoric to images of police and protest in the news; from how sexual attitudes are formed to language around disability in the time of COVID-19, their subjects span the field of Communication.

2022 Student Theses

Constructing a Queer Asian/Pacific Islander Archive: Network-Building in Community Organizing

Sudeep Solanki Bhargava (C’22)

Headshot of Sudeep Solanki Bhargava smiling

Faculty Supervisor: Julia Ticona

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

This study examines the social networks built by queer Asian/Pacific Islanders within and among community organizations as an archive of relationships. Interviews were conducted with nine organization members, focusing on how their relationships provide forms of support otherwise institutionally denied to them. This study finds that participants' relationships to each other, and with community spaces, provide them with access to support and play the archival role of generating new knowledge and (re)defining realities.

Sudeep Bhargava received the Lynda S. Hart Undergraduate Award for this thesis.

The Age of Aquarius: Bill and Hillary Clinton's Use of Narrative in Empowering the Boomer Generation

Sabrina Elson (C’22)

Headshot of Sabrina Elson

Faculty Supervisor: David Eisenhower

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

In addressing how politicians employ narrative within political and electioneering speech generally, this thesis examines how Bill and Hillary Clinton, two prominent Baby Boomers, use Boomer generational narrative within their political speech. The Boomer generation is unique, largely due to the social circumstances of their adolescence during the 1960s. This study utilizes qualitative textual analysis, specifically looking for narrative structure and implicit and explicit references to the Boomers. The Clintons’ political success validates the Baby Boomers.

How Sexual Attitudes are Formed: The Association Between Different Sources for Sexual Education and Their Relationship with Sexual Shame

Aerin Shea Fergus (C’22)

Headshot of Aerin Shea Fergus smiling

Faculty Supervisor: David Lydon-Staley

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

This thesis analyses the effects of different sources for sexual education on sexual shame among college students. This study used a survey methodology to assess levels of both formal and internet sexual education, as well as sexual shame. The results suggested significant positive associations between formal and online sexual education, as well as between online sexual information seeking and sexual shame. This indicates that sexual education curriculums may benefit from teaching youth internet and media literacy.

Police, Protest, and News Photography: An Image Analysis

Luca Fontes (C’22)

Headshot of Luca Fontes

Faculty Supervisor: Barbie Zelizer

Seminar Supervisor: Eran Ben-Porath

This study analyzes visual patterns in news photographs of police officers, particularly in cases of police brutality, to determine how local and national news outlets cover the police force. By looking at coverage from two high-profile cases of police brutality — the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the killing of Ma'Khia Bryant in 2021 — the study identifies visual tropes that images of police officers often fall into and discusses how their coverage has shifted since 2020.

Disability Rhetoric During COVID-19: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of Online News and Twitter

Robin Hu (C’22)

Headshot of Robin Hu

Faculty Supervisor: Matthew Brook O’Donnell

Seminar Supervisor: Eran Ben-Porath

With the topical relevance of disability during COVID-19, this study expands upon existing literature by examining disability terminology (incidence and contextual usage) in online news and Twitter. Comparing pre-pandemic and pandemic timeframes, this study also uniquely employed a corpus linguistic methodology, allowing for a computationally aided quantitative and qualitative analysis of 9,222 articles and 196,231 tweets. The findings reveal significant changes in language use during the pandemic, signaling a shifting paradigm in the way disability is portrayed. 

Robin Hu received the Rose Research Award for this thesis.

K-Pop Idols and Performing Soft Power: An Analysis of News Coverage of Political and Diplomatic Events

JiMin (Jamie) Lee (C’22)

Headshot of Jamie Lee

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Sonia Jawaid Shaikh

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

This thesis aims to study how K-pop idols are used to promote South Korea’s political standing and how K-pop idols are used to pursue soft power. These questions are explored through conducting contextual analysis of news/magazine articles covering the events and historical analysis to highlight the significance of the events. Research shows Korea’s government playing a large part in organizing the idols to represent Korea at events and their recognition of K-pop’s soft power.

Gendered Science Communication: The Role of Speaker Gender & Pitch in Perceived Credibility and Persuasion of Climate Science

Sophia (Ruijun) Liu (C’22)

Headshot of Sophia Liu

Faculty Supervisor: Jin Woo Kim

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

Following the political-psychology subfield of persuasion studies, this study explores how the voice pitch and gender of a speaker affect attitudes towards them and the scientific facts they communicate, particularly those pertaining to climate change. Based on a survey experiment (N=660), it was found that all speakers, regardless of voice pitch and gender, were similarly effective in changing participants’ climate beliefs. Moreover, all speakers were rated similarly in terms of subjective expertise, benevolence, and integrity.

Magazine Covers and Presidential Impeachments: A Cross-National Framing Analysis

Eduardo Loureiro (C’22)

Headshot of Eduardo Loureiro

Faculty Supervisor: David Eisenhower

Seminar Supervisor: Eran Ben-Porath

This study analyzes magazine covers featuring impeached Presidents from Brazil and the United States in order to measure if there is evidence of negative framing. 150 covers were coded as either positive, negative or neutral and 20 covers were analyzed in depth. The results showed a predominance of negative framing for all Presidents studied, leading to implications related to the deconstruction of a President’s image as well as the cross-national similarities of the framing tendencies of magazines across a period of 68 years.

Where Body Positivity Holds its Weight: A Cross-Platform Critical Discourse Analysis of the Body Positivity Movement on Social Media

Zoe Roman (C’22)

Headshot of Zoe Roman

Faculty Supervisor: Guobin Yang

Seminar Supervisor: Eran Ben-Porath

​​This study aims to interpret discourse surrounding the Body Positivity Movement on social media by analyzing Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok posts by high-engagement activists. Through the identification of common themes and the determination of distinct affordance-based thematic messaging styles, the findings are able to provide a nuanced understanding of platform-specific communication and a uniquely accurate representation of a viewer’s complete media diet with regard to consumption of Body Positive content.

#FreeBritney: Strategies of Counternarratives and Self-Regulation in Digital Fan Activism

Akhil Vaidya (C’22)

Headshot of Akhil Vaidya

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Jessa Lingel

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

The conservatorship of Britney Spears represented both a legal arrangement that placed severe restrictions on her autonomy, as well as the center of #FreeBritney, a growing online activist movement that demanded a restoration of her rights. Through a thematic analysis of interviews with #FreeBritney activists, this study interrogates fandom as a site of activist potential within the framework of a successful online movement, testing established theory and locating new sites of analysis in contemporary social activism. 

“There’s Some Whores in This House”: How Female Rappers Have Reclaimed Hip-Hop and Redefined Hip-Hop Feminism in the 21st Century

Christina Whittingham (C’22)

Headshot of Christina Whittingham

Faculty Supervisor: Murali Balaji 

Seminar Supervisor: Kim Woolf

This thesis focuses on the ways female rappers and hip-hop feminism have provided a representation and newfound agency for Black women, where they are able to be “controllers” of their images. Through the analysis of five contemporary rap videos, my study looks at how Black female agency is reclaimed and demonstrated visually and textually by female rappers and how hegemonic patriarchal standards of womanhood are subverted in these songs.  

Redesigning America: Asian Immigrants and the 1952 and 1965 Immigration Acts

Tamara Wurman (C’22)

Headshot of Tamara Wurman

Faculty Supervisor: David Eisenhower

Seminar Supervisor: Eran Ben-Porath

With a rhetorical analysis of the Congressional debates of two 20th century immigration bills, this thesis examines the representation of Asian immigrants' position in the United States. This analysis found that even at moments when Asian immigrants were not directly the subject of debate, prejudiced attitudes nevertheless reappeared and informed legislators' rhetoric. Immigration is a site where American identity is literally and symbolically negotiated and designed. With the pervasive racialization of Asian immigrants, where they are placed in that 'design' carries implications not only for how they have been portrayed and treated historically, but also for the widespread discrimination Asian Americans and immigrants continue to face today.

Tamara Wurman received the Gordon Bodek prize for this thesis.