KU News Release

Nov. 29, 2010
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, (785) 864-8855

With cell phones and laptops, students research diversity through social media

LAWRENCE — At a time when many college instructors might see cell phones as a distraction, Simran Sethi encourages students to bring cell phones with texting capabilities to her Diversity in Media class at the University of Kansas.

The devices make possible the class’ research into ways that multicultural populations use social media and the effects of net neutrality and the digital divide.

“Increasingly communities of color, particularly African Americans, are participating in social media via mobile media,” said Sethi, associate professor of journalism. “They’ve leapfrogged over that need to have a home computer or access to a computer at the library or at school, and they’ve also leaped over the need to have a high-speed Internet connection at home.”

Sethi’s students are required to maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to send regular status updates and tweets on issues that pertain to race, gender, religion, sexual identity, class and other facets of diversity in popular media.

“Initially, much of the class was really not convinced you could use Facebook or Twitter to engage in deeper conversations or to tell any story of real substance,” said Sethi. “But I would say that most of them now are highly engaged — even when they’re not required in class to be tweeting — because they want to have a dialogue with their followers.”

In addition to conducting much of the class via social media, the KU researcher has organized field trips for her students to the Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site and the Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center and Museum. She also has invited guest speakers to engage with her students in a series of virtual lectures, including Josh Stearns of Free Press, hip-hop feminist blogger Latoya Peterson, Adam Baruchowitz of HEEB magazine and Nate Phelps, son of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps.

“They all use social media to talk about their communities,” noted Sethi. “That’s the thread that ties all of these people together.”

For a final project, Sethi and her students have organized a digital summit on multiculturalism and new media, dubbed “Telling Stories of Diversity in the Digital Age.” An array of speakers recruited by the class will address social media and the idea of a “post-racial” America; women in new media; the role of social media on the global stage; and how mobile and digital media aid the communication of differently abled people. The event will be streamed live at unityjournalists.org. More information about the summit is available here.

“One of the most important opportunities we have is to engage with a broader audience outside of the classroom,” Sethi said. “It raises the bar on our reporting. I thought for this class, the best way to do this would be to collate some of the strongest social media creators in the space of diversity. We’re exploring this in a number of different areas. Everybody who consumes news through social media should be tuned into this event — that includes producers and consumers. It’s a really great opportunity to see how we can use these platforms in ways that can be newsworthy.”

The Diversity in Media class is a joint offering through the KU schools of journalism and social welfare. Because the class aims to drive positive change in the world and serve as a catalyst for innovative leadership and social responsibility, students can use the experience to help qualify for a service learning certificate at KU.

But for Sethi, the intention is simply to foster better storytelling from more points-of-view.

“One of the fundamental goals of this class was to make the invisible visible,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is to say, ‘A lot of perspectives are being overlooked.’ While diverse communities may have been engaging in an insular way, now what we’re seeing is that everyone has an opportunity to engage with these communities. But how do we do it best? What stories do we need to tell that we haven’t been telling?”

Students in the Diversity in Media class are listed below by hometown, level in school, major, parents’ names (when available) and other schools attended.

From Lawrence 66049
Aaron Matthew Cornett, graduate student in journalism; bachelor’s degree in journalism from KU, summer 2001; Lansing High School.

From Leawood 66209 and Overland Park 66212
Lauren Marie Fournier, senior in journalism; Paul Fournier (66209) and Janet Fournier (66212); Shawnee Mission Northwest High School.

From Olathe 66061
Hannah Faye Stern, junior in journalism; Jane and Stuart Stern; Olathe North High School.

From Olathe 66062
Jeanne Elizabeth Brown, senior in journalism; David and Lucy Brown; Olathe South High School.

From Lyndon 66451
Rebecca Marie Harsch, senior in journalism; Kathy and Martin Harsch; Lyndon High School.

From Larned 67550
Monisha Lanique Bruner, senior in journalism; Anthony and La Tasha Bruner Hill; Larned High School.

From Arlington 67514
Autumn Danique Morning Sky, junior in journalism; Darlene Worthington; Fairfield High School, Turon.

From Manhattan 66503
Calvin Campbell McConnell, senior in journalism; Robert McConnell; Spring Creek Lodge Academy, Thompson Falls, Mont.

From Wichita 67206
Alex James Tretbar, junior in English and journalism; Brenda Tretbar; Wichita East High School.

From Wichita 67235
Adam J. Strunk, senior in political science and journalism; John and Ruth Strunk; Andale High School.

From Topeka 66604
Danielle Nicole Packer, senior in women’s studies and journalism; Sheri Desch; Topeka West High School.

From Topeka 66616
Angelique Marie McNaughton, senior in journalism; Alvin McNaughton; bachelor’s degree from KU, spring 2010; Shawnee Heights Senior High School, Tecumseh.

From Modoc 67863
Rolaina Danelle West, graduate student in journalism.

From Kansas City 66109
Chelsea Elizabeth Theno, junior in journalism; Kurt and Elizabeth Theno; Piper High School.

From Washington 20036
Goran Sabah Ghafour, graduate student in journalism.

From Columbia 62236
Brittany Richelle Buser, senior in journalism; Clare and Steve Buser; Rosati-Kain High School, St. Louis, Mo.

From Okemos 48864
Lindsey M. Siegele, graduate student in journalism; Paula and Robert Siegele; bachelor’s degree from Aquinas College, 2008; Okemos High School.

From Kansas City 64145
Michael Harrison Bednar, senior in journalism; Kathy and Frank Bednar; Rockhurst High School.

From Lincoln 68521
Elizabeth R. Oommen, senior in journalism; Abraham and Anna Oommen; Lincoln East Junior-Senior High School.

From Bucks
Isabel Marie Manalo, senior in journalism; Grace and Ponciano Manalo; American Community School, Cobham Surrey.

From York
Candice Lois Pears, nondegree-seeking student.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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