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Candidate Statement for ICA Presidential Election: Mary Beth Oliver

Posted By Mary Beth Oliver (Pennsylvania State U), Thursday, September 5, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Being a scholar of communication could not be more timely, central, and practically important. When we explain our research to those outside of our field, we are frequently met with enthused reactions and knowing nods. Likewise, we increasingly see other disciplines such as psychology, political science, and sociology (to name but a few) evidence increasing interest in the topics we routinely study. Our research represents a crucial hub in the wheel of society allowing people to voice their identities, raise the next generations, and empower political and social movements. The fundamental issues at the core of our discipline make our scholarship poised to stand at the forefront of constructing just, equitable, democratic, and inclusive communities and organizations. 


If elected, two of my primary goals are to increase the visibility of our scholarship into public discussions about social, political, scientific, and cultural issues, and to fully embrace an inclusive stance with regard to diversity that will recognize the contributions of all of our members and will also strengthen our scholarship. My goals reflect both my participation in the organization and my deep commitment, both personally and professionally, to how our discipline can help to foster well-being and social justice. I have been involved in ICA for many years, including as member and chair of the Publication Committee and the B. Aubrey Fisher Mentorship Award Committee; secretary of the Mass Communication Division; and member of the Committee on Conferences, the Best Article Award Committee, and the Steven Chaffee Career Achievement Award Committee. I have also served as an associate editor for two of ICA’s journals: Journal of Communication and Communication Theory. Serving in these roles is a humbling task that highlights the incredible scholarship of our talented members. It also has sensitized me to how much better we are than we might realize, and how much we can become an even stronger and more visible presence within academic and public discussions and debate. 


One of my primary goals is to encourage, support, and work toward greater visibility of our scholarship to a variety of audiences, including within ICA, to other fields, and to the public. I would also like to highlight the wealth of our work that directly and indirectly helps us to rise to our higher, better selves in pursuit of a healthy world — one that strives to improve social justice, the well-being of others, and the nurturance of a thriving, healthy environment that is inclusive and compassionate. Many members of ICA study these issues directly, addressing pressing and interrelated issues such as poverty, health, racism, mediated ideology, and climate change, among many other topics. Other ICA members study these issues indirectly, including how emotions function in communication processes, how networked communities foster greater compassion, or how a sensitivity to our histories may offer context and facilitate strategies for change and growth. In short, all of us entered this field with an enthusiasm that our work can make a difference — this is something that we can be proud of and that needs to be shared widely both within academia and with the public. 


An additional primary goal centers on enhancing inclusion and access across our membership. Working toward the larger social good is a crucial aspect of our scholarship, but it is also imperative that we are self-reflective and that we strive for the same goals within our organization. One of our strengths is that as we mature as a discipline, our membership increasingly reflects a diversity of voices and experiences. Over the years, this diversity has often been expressed in terms of internationalization — an important and honorable part of our organizational identity. But diversity comes in many additional forms, including in geographical locales, cultures, races, sexual and gender identities, ages, economic resources, and abilities. This diversity is our strength — it broadens our understanding of communication, encourages growth in our theorizing, and allows us to flourish in the inclusivity of our scholarship and teaching. However, this diversity is one that needs to be respected, nurtured, applauded, appreciated, and fully involved in our organization. ICA recently released its statement on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access and has developed a task force on this central issue. If elected, I look forwarding to working with this task force and listening carefully to our members to implement ideas for how ICA can be a welcoming home to the diversity of scholars who are part of our field. 


Turning these broad goals into concrete strategies can take many forms. For me to suggest that I have all of the answers for how best to proceed would be presumptuous and ham-fisted. What I will do is seek input from our members, consider these important issues from a variety of perspectives, and move toward implementing concrete steps to help us realize our goals. Among these goals are: 

  • Raising awareness of our scholarship to gain greater visibility in public discussions of pressing issues. 

  • Continuing efforts to encourage greater internationalization, including in under-represented locales such as in the Global South. 

  • Enhancing involvement among marginalized groups and recognizing and valuing contributions of more inclusive scholarship. 

  • Devising specific strategies to ensure that the leadership in ICA and the honors and awards that it gives are inclusive, transparent, and appreciative of the diversity of our members. 

  • Examining ICA’s publications and conference participation with an eye toward ensuring that the breadth of our members’ scholarly contributions is represented. 

  • Being sensitive that many scholars do not have the resources to participate in our organization or to carry out research that is often published in our journals, and seeking ways for a greater diversity of voices to find a home for their scholarship. 

  • Being mindful of the communities and issues that are important in the locales of our conferences and looking for opportunities to highlight these communities at our conferences and in our research. 


About MBO (PhD, University of Wisconsin): I am the Bellisario Professor of Media Studies and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory in the Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State University. My work is in the area of media psychology, and my focus is on media and social cognition (e.g., stereotyping), emotion, and social good. I am honored to have been named an ICA Fellow in 2014 and to be the recipient of ICA’s B. Aubrey Fisher Mentorship Award in 2017. I consider ICA to be my “professional home,” and am deeply grateful for the scholarly opportunities that it has provided to me, as well as the friendships I have formed with many of its members. It would be my honor to serve as its president.


Tags:  September 2019 

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