Communication Studies Alumni Co-Author Separate Book Chapters Examining Media Stereotypes

Melinda Sevilla, Dr. Kristin Moran, Kevin DoMelinda Sevilla and Kevin Do, flanking Communication Studies Professor Dr. Kristin Moran during a 2018 event, recently became published co-authors on separate chapters in a book on media stereotypes.

Melinda Sevilla and Kevin Do have a lot in common. This pair of first-generation college students graduated from the University of San Diego in 2018. Sevilla and Do each earned an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies. They were standouts in the McNair Scholars program, in research and both advanced to graduate school.

Earlier this month, Sevilla and Do added another accolade to their higher education profiles — they are published co-authors of separate chapters in the same book, Media Stereotypes: From Ageism to Xenophobia (Peter Lang Publishing, 2020).

Sevilla, who completed a Master of Arts in Mediated Communications and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) this past spring, worked alongside UIUC PhD Communication students Kristopher R. Weeks and Amanda N. Tolbert and UIUC Director of Graduate Study and Professor Travis L. Dixon, PhD, on a chapter titled, Black Stereotypes in the Media: A Continuing Problem (pgs. 93-111).

Do, an MA/PhD student in Communications at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), co-authored Stereotypes of Latina/o Populations (pgs. 113-131) with Dana Mastro, associate dean of the College of Creative Studies and Professor of Communication at UCSB.

Dixon served as Sevilla’s academic adviser in the UIUC master’s program and Mastro is Do’s academic adviser at UCSB. Dixon and Mastro, top researchers in their field, were approached to write the chapter and Sevilla and Do were sought out early on at their respective graduate schools to participate.

“Travis is an expert on media stereotypes and media representation so he’s known for his groundbreaking research on Black stereotypes in the media. The ways in which Black individuals are represented in the news is very disproportionate to what reality shows. Criminality, seeing how many whites are considered victims in the news compared to Blacks, Latinos, Middle Eastern, etc. That’s where he became very well-known in the communications world, so it was a huge honor to be a co-author on this chapter with him.”

Do said working with Mastro was equally valuable. “This book chapter opportunity would not be possible without her. She’s world-renowned for her research on Latinx stereotypes. It’s definitely one of the reasons I chose to do it.”

Rewarding Undergraduate Experiences

This is the first published professional work for both Sevilla and Do. Gaining a published research credit is exciting, but in many ways, it’s a reward for their participation in undergraduate research projects.

“In our undergraduate research, Kevin and I were very close. We did similar research. He focused more on quantitative research on Asian studies perspective and I focused on quantitative approach from the Latino perspective,” Sevilla said.

Communication Studies faculty mentorship, from teaching them skills and preparing them through their courses, hit the mark, too.

“The success of Melinda and Kevin in their graduate programs point to the solid foundation they received in the communication studies major,” said Professor Kristin Moran, PhD, who was Sevilla’s faculty adviser. “Our students are well prepared for rigorous graduate study because we’re able to foster close mentoring relationships, offer undergraduate research opportunities that allow students to gain confidence in their own abilities to not only engage in the research process, but also prepare them to develop more in-depth skills at the graduate level.”

Sevilla, who also earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish, credited a sophomore year research methods class with Bradley Bond, associate professor and Communication Studies department chair, for showing her the foundation to succeed.

“I took it right before I started McNair and if I hadn’t taken that class, which focused on qualitative and quantitative methods, I think I would have been so lost in the McNair program and in my master’s at Illinois,” Sevilla said.

Moran helped Sevilla learn a statistics software program early on that came back around in her master’s program. Moran spoke about when Sevilla was a junior and conducted her first research project with an interest in Latina/o representation on television.

“She engaged in a content analysis and by the time she completed that project she learned how to investigate literature, ask questions, gather data and make a claim — this led to a second research project using qualitative methods incorporating an intercultural communication perspective.”

Leeva Chung, PhD, was Do’s McNair faculty adviser, and, along with Moran, Bond, and Susannah Stern, PhD, and USD McNair Scholars Director Ramiro Frausto, Do had a lot of support and encouragement for his development. He even did an undergraduate Big Ten Academic Alliance Summer Research Opportunities Program fellowship at the University of Iowa.

“Being a first-gen, low-income student, a person of color, I never ever thought I’d be in a doctoral program, I never thought I’d go to national and international conferences, never thought I’d work with world-renowned scholars — and I definitely did not think I’d have anything published at age 24,” Do said. “I owe a big thank you to USD, to the communications department, to professors Chung, Stern, Bond, Moran, and Ramiro and McNair Scholars.”

McNair Scholars, a national program with a successful USD chapter that’s funded by the U.S. Department of Education and USD, serves high-achieving undergraduates who will pursue a PhD or graduate degree.

“One of the most important things we do in McNair is provide a community of peers committed to a common goal. As first-generation students, it is helpful to not go through this process alone,” Frausto said. “Kevin and Melinda always pushed each other to achieve their greatest potential, especially during their undergraduate research experiences.”

Examining Stereotypes with a New Lens

Now at the next level, Do’s work at UCSB centers on understanding the quality and quantity of representation of racial/ethnic groups in media and its effect on perceptions of self and others. His interest in studying the media's effect on Asian-Americans, focusing primarily on identity, remains a passion.

But the book chapter, which looked at Latinx stereotypes, gave Do, with Mastro’s approval, a chance to move the needle.

“We documented everything we know about Latinx stereotypes, from the very early ages of research in different context – in video games, movies, and so on — but the main focus and where I had my hands-on was the future implications of theoretical and pragmatic implications. (Dana) said ‘Good, let’s take this forward.’ My thing is that the academy is going to continue investigating this phenomenon down to its minute level. But there needs to be someone who takes this forward. The next logical step in media stereotypes is investigating media literacy.”

Sevilla, who has moved into digital marketing and communications at her graduate alma mater, agrees with Do on media literacy. Straying from her usual Latinx-based research to examine Black stereotypes in her chapter, she has even greater respect in how she approaches her new career path.

“It’s important to me, especially now, because I’ve shifted gears to more of a project-based route. But regardless of how you use this knowledge, it’s something you should be aware of when trying to put any communications campaign or marketing campaign out in this political climate, in this day and age,” she said. “As I was looking over the chapter, it made me think of the ways election newscasters are referring to the Latino vote and the Black vote. That doesn’t exist. Any idea they have in their head when using these blanket terms is so influenced by the media they consume and how these characters and this representation is cultivated in their minds. But it’s historically inaccurate and it is disproportionate with reality.”

Taking all that they’ve learned, there’s room for one more similarity Sevilla and Do have, something that began at USD and will continue as long as they do. They’re eager to make a difference to make it a better world for all.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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