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THE 2016 CSGS/PROQUEST DISTINGUISHED MASTER'S THESIS AWARD WINNERS:

Digital Scholarship:

Sergio Carvajal-Leoni, Texas State University 

The Texan Italian Stores Documentary Series: Fostering Social Connections Among Members of a Geo-Ethnic Community Through the Process of Media Creation
The Texan Italian Stores Documentary Series: Fostering Social Connections Among Members of a Geo-Ethnic Community Through the Process of Media Creation
The Texan Italian Stores Documentary Series: Fostering Social Connections Among Members of a Geo-Ethnic Community Through the Process of Media Creation

Research in Communication Infrastructure Theory (CIT) has looked at geo-ethnic communities—e.g., the Korean community of Los Angeles— and concluded that healthy and reoccurring interpersonal communication among community members is crucial for increasing levels of neighborhood belonging, civic engagement, and collective efficacy (Ball Rokeach, Kim & Matei, 2001). Nonetheless, despite the importance of interpersonal communication in strengthening geo-ethnic communities, as a professional media maker I have worked for many years under the assumption that a successful media piece is one that can “connect” with the audience, rather than one that serves as a platform for audience members to connect with one another. (Jenkins, 2013)

This Master thesis is a hybrid project that combines academic research and documentary film production with the goal to use the actual process of media creation to encourage members of a geo-ethnic community to establish connections and exchange stories with one another. To answer the research question, Can a participatory approach of video creation facilitate social connections among members of a specific geo-ethnic community? I developed a project called “The Texan Italian Stories series”, a set of five short documentary episodes distributed online, which highlighted people, stories, and events from the Italian community in Central Texas. To create this series a unique approach was employed where each part of the production process – from conceptualization to distribution – was informed by academic research and intentionally adjusted so it could foster interpersonal dialogue among audience members and highlighted subjects.

To better analyze and compile the results of this project, I conducted qualitative interviews with 10 subjects who participated in the creation of the documentary series. The results find evidence that adopting a participatory approach of media production that is informed by CIT research can effectively foster interactions among members of a geotechnics community. I complement the data with actual examples of the content created and distributed through the process (the episodes). This research project adds substantial new information to the research field of CIT by providing new approaches and results that could only be achieved through the media practitioner’s perspective and the combination of academic research and media production; a multidisciplinary practice that I argue should be further encouraged across every area of communication research.

 

Social Sciences:

Gandalf Nicolas, The College of William and Mary

Confrontation of Prejudice Towards Multiracials and Monoracials

Research has shown that expressing disapproval towards an individual who makes a prejudicial comment can change racial attitudes and diminish stereotypical expressions by prejudiced commenters (Czopp et al., 2006). However, in order for prejudice confrontation to occur, potential confronters need to identify racial bias in the commenter’s remark (Ashburn-Nardo et al, 2008). One factor that might hinder the identification of an expression as prejudiced is the racial ambiguity of the target, an issue increasingly important with a growing mixed-race population (Jones & Bullock, 2010). Recent research suggests that multiracials can be the target of double discrimination given the ambiguity that surrounds their perceived status as neither dominant-group members nor minorities (Sanchez et al., 2011), highlighting the importance of investigating how phenomena related to prejudice differ for multiracial and monoracial targets.
The current studies explore how perceptions of prejudice confrontation vary based on whether the target of racial bias is a monoracial or multiracial minority. We hypothesized that when targets of prejudice are multi- racial, individuals will evaluate prejudice confrontations as being less appropriate and they will engage in fewer and less assertive confrontations.
In an initial study we presented participants with hypothetical scenarios that asked them to imagine themselves making a racially biased comment and being confronted about it. The race of the target of this comment was manipulated to be either Black or Black-White multiracial using facial photographs. Our results show that, when asked to evaluate the confrontation, those in the multiracial condition expressed higher negativity towards the intervention.
A second study replicated this result in a scenario where the participants imagined themselves to be uninvolved observers of an interaction between a prejudiced commenter and a confronter. Importantly, when targets where multiracial (vs. Black) not only the confrontation was evaluated more negatively, but the prejudiced commenter was evaluated more positively.
In a final study we found similar results using a behavioral task. Participants were told they would be completing a decision-making task with another student, but this student was actually a confederate researcher following a script. During the task, the confederate makes a racially biased decision, indicating that a minority target (manipulated to be either Black or multiracial) was most likely to be a mugger out of 5 different people. The participants’ responses were then coded to reflect whether or not they confronted the confederate, and how assertively they did (i.e., how direct, firm, and race-related the response was). Our results indicate that when the target was multiracial (vs. Black) participants confronted less frequently and less assertively.
Across three studies we found convergent evidence that when racial bias is expressed at multiracial targets, confrontations are evaluated as being less appropriate than when the target is Black. Additionally, bystanders show less negativity towards prejudiced commenters when the target is of mixed-race. Furthermore, bias directed at multiracials prompts fewer expressions of public disapproval and less assertive confrontations than when directed at a Black target. 
The current research supports the idea that racial ambiguity contributes to a uniquely distinct form of racial bias that is harder to identify than prejudice towards monoracial minorities, leading to dismissals of confrontations and lower interpersonal costs for prejudiced commenters. Given the importance of identifying bias for bystander confrontation, and the detrimental effects of prejudice exposure on minorities’ well-being, it is vital to understand how to increase the effectiveness of this strategy as it relates to the growing multiracial population. As long as racial ambiguity allows for racially charged comments and discrimination to be discarded or unidentified, social change will be harder to achieve, and prejudice will be perpetuated.
 

Life Sciences:

Andrew MacLaren, Texas State University

Automated Detection of Rare and Endangered Anurans Using Robust and Reliable Detection Software 

Amphibian populations are experiencing rapid and alarming rates of decline across the globe. On every continent in which amphibians occur they are presently threatened by disease, catastrophe, and anthropogenic disturbance. In order to conserve what biodiversity has not already been lost, researchers must innovate and revolutionize the way in which we study these rapidly disappearing creatures. Monitoring of anurans is often accomplished by listening for the call of the male as it searches for a female during the breeding season. This unique behavior makes it possible for researchers to record audio in the field to be analyzed later in a laboratory setting. Within the last decade Audio Recording Devices (ARD) with the explicit purpose of capturing the sounds animals produce have become commercially available. As methods of audio recording have evolved, so have the methods by which researchers review field recordings for the presence, absence, and abundance of anurans. The focus of my research is on advancing our abilities to monitor for the endangered Houston Toad (Bufo houstonensis) using state of the art machine-learning techniques of pattern recognition. The application of these techniques is understudied and not well documented for anurans. I employed a step-wise methodology to produce a robust and reliable recognition tool. The number of ‘type’ calls increasing with each iterative step. Each resulting recognizer is based off more data than the last, thus its ability to locate the call of the focal species should increase. Each resulting recognizer was tested against the training data ‘self-contained’ within it, as well as an additional set of control audio containing a known number of calls. Ultimately, these tests produced a robust and reliable tool for detecting the activity of male Houston Toads within any searchable body of audio. Additionally, I compared the efficacy of this machine-learning technique to a highly trained professional listening for the call. Researchers often doubt the reliability of automated techniques. Producing direct comparisons between identification techniques are imperative if these tools are to be seen as a viable means of monitoring imperiled species, where the stakes are at their highest. Finally, I employed these automated machine-learning techniques to document the presence or absence of the Houston Toad at multiple sites within two Texas counties, coupled those data with high resolution environmental data to enable more accurate depiction of the calling activity of the Houston Toad across a complete chorusing season. Graphical depiction of the calling activity illustrated the influence of environmental conditions on when males select to vocalize. These correlations were then evaluated using a multivariate approach. The findings of these analyses raise further questions about the efficacy of our federal guidelines for monitoring the Houston Toad given its current abundance. Overall, the research strengthens support for the introduction of automated methods of audio monitoring for anuran populations. The outcomes of these initial questions elucidate existing shortcomings of our current protocols for monitoring these animals, and serves to highlight the ability of automated digital recording and automated recognition to revolutionize the way we research vocalizing fauna