1) What do you do?
I am a media studies professor, nonprofit co-founder, diversity educator, and a mom. My time at Texas A&M University is split equally between my role as Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and as an Associate Dean for Climate and Inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts. My research and teaching focus on media literacy, cultural diversity, and participatory storytelling. In my role as a university administrator, I help promote programmatic initiatives that help with recruitment, retention, equity, and improved climate for underrepresented students, faculty, and staff on our campus. My frustration with the lack of real-world community engagement in the academic “ivory tower” led me to start a global nonprofit in 2013 called Media Rise, which is a network of artists, educators, activists, and policymakers committed to supporting meaningful media for social justice, peace, and sustainability. We conduct annual, week-long festivals in Washington D.C. and smaller events around the world. When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family apart from practicing music and yoga.
2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
The latest project involves designing and implementing a six-week long online media literacy curriculum in Farsi language. I was invited by the Eurasia Foundation, whose employees met me at the annual Youth Media Rise festival, to create this exciting program targeted at Iranian high school teachers and youth activists. Media literacy is a very new concept for them and there is a lot of enthusiasm to learn about it. We offer this program along with others focused on civic engagement, conflict management, and other leadership skills. This free online program was completely voluntary in nature and has already been successfully offered twice this past year. We had to take care to create culturally-sensitive course materials, case studies, and exercises to engage the participants in using a highly interactive online space. It was heartening to read all the final projects, which were lesson plans incorporating media literacy education into the classroom or after-school youth programs. Some of the teachers even implemented the plans in their classroom and shared their outcomes with us.
3) Why is media literacy important to you?
It is impossible to talk about social justice or advocacy today without also including media literacy and participatory communication. We live in a diverse, transnational, and multicultural world where media literacy is an essential skill to thrive and flourish as global citizens. I see media literacy, cultural diversity training, and prejudice reduction as inter-related ideas. Media convergence and digital technologies also offer unique opportunities to find ways to connect with new people, collaborate together, and bring about social change. This is why critical media literacy, participatory media, and community-oriented media initiatives are important. Alternative media spaces online provide marginalized groups with a bottom-up approach to affirming their identities and bridging social inequalities through active digital citizenship. New digital multimodal media literacies allow underprivileged groups to effectively and creatively form alliances and coalitions for meaningful cross-sector partnerships.
4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
What’s most exciting about the media literacy field is the sheer diversity of organizations, initiatives, and sites around the world where critical media literacy skills are being acquired, honed, and shared. Through my work with my nonprofit, Media Rise, I have been fortunate to work closely with many amazing organizations doing community-oriented media literacy projects, including Latinitas, Gandhi Brigade, NalandaWay, The Change School, One Common Unity, Move this World, Words Beats & Life, Split This Rock, Media Education Lab, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, Living Classrooms, Words Liive, Core Media Enterprises, and the Promethean Community, to name just a few. Through their work with young people, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, these initiatives are transforming individuals but also entire communities and the institutions that shape their lives.
5) Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
I’m extremely grateful to NAMLE for their support and guidance for Media Rise and for my media literacy projects in general. Through my membership, I get to meet and read about all the exciting projects happening in the field of media literacy all around the world. I also share these resources with my students and colleagues, whether they are new to this field or experts in it, because there is always so much more to learn. NAMLE members approach media literacy from many different perspectives and these perspectives help me appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of the field. The passion, commitment, and creativity of its members keeps me highly inspired to continue to work collaboratively with others to promote meaningful media for social good.