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Faculty Focus: Amanda Martinez Traces Effects of Media Portrayals on Their Subjects

by Morgan Orangi '13

Amanda MartinezAt the intersection of sociology, gender studies, educational studies and communication studies courses, you'll find Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Amanda Martinez.

Since joining the Davidson faculty in the fall of 2012, Martinez has added transdisciplinary courses such as "Gendered Communication in Society," "Intercultural Communication" and "Media Effects." She taught variations of the courses at the University of Houston Downtown and Texas A&M University, where she completed her doctoral degree, before restructuring them for Davidson students.

"I knew that I wanted to work at a liberal arts college because I had gone to one as an undergraduate, and after comparing it to larger universities, I realized that I preferred the smaller classroom setting," Martinez explained. "It creates a more intimate learning environment that lends itself to discussion and unique assignments."

When it comes to projects, Martinez often gives students the freedom to either explore a topic that interests them or to execute on the topic in the students' preferred format. For instance, the "Intercultural Communication" course mid-term exam asks students to get to know an unfamiliar culture and someone from that culture.

"Students often find the project gratifying because they not only make a new friend, but also go through a self-reflective process by seeing through an intercultural rather than ethnocentric lens," she said.

While Martinez routinely teaches classes that focus on intercultural issues, the course most closely related to her research is "Media Effects," which explores the cognitive processes audiences undergo when exposed to mass media.

For her most recent research, Martinez made the most of Houston's diverse population during the year before she came to Davidson. She said that research on in-group and out-group stereotyping tends to focus on dominant in-group members, which led her to turn her focus to underrepresented voices. Her latest project tracked how Latinos responded and interacted after viewing comedic media targeted at Latinos.

"I think scholarship is lacking about the potential impact of comedy and entertainment media – it's socially desirable that we know how to take a joke, but what other effects does it have on diverse populations when the joke targets the group members themselves?" she said.

The rapid growth of the Latino population in the United States and the diversity among Latinos allowed her to observe intra-group salience, or how individuals respond to media that target parts of our own identity.

Last spring and summer, student research assistants helped Martinez analyze the data she had collected from a focus group in Houston. "I enjoy getting to know students interested in the topic who can benefit from working with me in the quantitative or qualitative process," Martinez said.

Although most researchers in her field choose to focus on either qualitative or quantitative methods, Martinez adeptly employs both. She plans to write a book based on the research that will explore whether diverse audiences' interpretations of comedy in mainstream media help transcend stereotypes or perpetuate them and lead to other possible effects.

In addition to scholarly writing, Martinez is currently coediting a collection of essays from various authors about social constructs and gender roles in the transitional era, referring to how gender identities and performances increasingly blur the binaries of masculinity and femininity in today's society.

When Martinez wants to do some extra reading or assign reading on gender, especially feminism, she turns to bell hooks, an inclusive feminist who takes intersectional perspectives into account.

Looking forward, Martinez wants to develop a media advocacy and literacy course. She said, "With the explosion of social media and increased accessibility of the Internet, those topics are becoming especially popular and important." She also hopes to create a media health campaigns class that teaches the different ways organizations use media tools to promote pro-social attitudes toward a range of health issues.