New Media and Diversity Center opens at MU

The center has started a mentorship program for undergraduate and graduate students interested in issues of diversity in the media.

The communication department launched the Media and Diversity Center, which will promote research and media literacy programs.

“Primarily, we’re interested in conducting cutting-edge research in relation to issues of diversity and the media,” co-director Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz said. “We’re also interested in training undergraduate students at the University of Missouri and graduate students to become good social scientists.”

The center, which opened on Feb. 24, hopes to draw attention to research into “the diversity of representations in traditional and digital media as well as the effects on beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and policy support,” according to the center’s website.

For the six graduate research associates and two undergraduate associates involved with the center, Behm-Morawitz and co-director Julius Riles have started a mentorship program to facilitate the training of undergraduate students and help graduate students enhance their mentorship abilities through workshops.

“We are trained to become more effective mentors,” graduate research associate Grace Choi said. “Having an open, collaborative environment where I can talk to other people about this issue can be very encouraging.”

Another focus of the center is promoting collaboration not only within different departments at MU, but also between researchers at other institutions around the country. Of the center’s 11 current research associates, seven come from other schools, such as Texas A&M University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of San Diego.

“[We contacted the researchers] so that we could start collaborating and having discussions and putting together situations in which we can promote each other's work, but also use each other’s resources to engage in more research in this area,” Riles said.

This collaboration could take the form of grant applications, joint presentations at conferences, visiting each other’s campuses as guest speakers, allowing students to network with individuals from other universities and in expanding research.

“We want to use the center to draw attention to the research that’s happening in the College of Arts and Science and at the University of Missouri,” Behm-Morawitz said. “We see this primarily as an opportunity for our undergraduates and our graduate students here, but by drawing in faculty from other institutions, we’re able to extend the educational experience of our students.”

Choi is responsible for promoting outreach by running the center’s website, Twitter account and Facebook group, which highlight both positive and negative examples of diversity in the media and provide a forum for discussion.

“We want to make people aware of what’s going on in the media, so one of our goals is to increase diversity in the media,” Choi said. “If we see something that’s very problematic that’s going on, then we want others to be aware of that as well, so we would spread that information to other people.”

The Facebook group is open to not only research associates, but also to anyone who is interested in the goals of the center.

One of these goals is developing community partnerships to increase media literacy through presentations. Currently, the center is reaching out to residence halls and other departments on campus, as well as an LGBT community center in Columbia.

“What we mean by media literacy is people’s ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create or produce media,” Behm-Morawitz said. “It’s about becoming more critical media consumers as well as increasing people’s skills to interact in mediated environments and create their own mediated stories.”

Research projects are done in the communication department’s space, as the center does not have a physical location. The Media and Diversity Center also does not receive any funding from MU. It is instead being supported by the faculty members involved.

Although Behm-Morawitz has been interested in the idea of an initiative with these goals since at least 2010, planning for the center did not become official until 2016 when Riles was hired.

“We were just kind of waiting to expand our faculty in the area of media effects before officially launching and going forward with the center,” Behm-Morawitz said. “With Dr. Riles hired, it was the perfect time to push forward with the plans now that we had two faculty on board here with really similar interests.”

Undergraduates who are interested in participating in the center’s research projects or with the mentorship program should contact either Riles or Behm-Morawitz, Riles said.

Edited by Kyle LaHucik | klahucik@themaneater.com

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