PWR Perspective on Undergraduate Research: Angela Myers

Angela Myers sitting in a chair, holding a laptopOne of the unique things about Elon’s PWR program is that every major is required to complete two credits of undergraduate research during their time in college. This research can involve joining an established group project with other students and faculty in the English Department, proposing an independent study, or doing a combination of the two. One student who chose the second option is senior Angela Myers. Angela is an Honors Fellow and received the Lumen prize in 2019 to further her thesis research. Her research examines the rhetoric of colleges’ online sexual assault prevention courses, and she conducted a comparative study between courses used in the U.S. and those in New Zealand (where she studied abroad during Spring 2020). Her research also led her to launch a social media campaign about sexual assault prevention in collaboration with the GLC.

How did you come up with the idea for your research project?

I’ve always been interested in the relationship between public health and rhetoric, so I knew I wanted to do a research project at that intersection. However, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. One night, I woke up at 3am with the idea of researching sexual violence prevention. The idea wasn’t fully formed, but I wrote it down in my journal, went back to sleep, and researched the issue further in the morning. I discovered not a lot of scholars were studying how to communicate about sexual violence prevention, so I emailed my research mentor, Dr. Jessie Moore, and the rest is history. You never know when an idea will come to you, especially as a writer, so I always recommend keeping a notebook nearby for any ideas you might have. 

What methods did you use to study your topic?

For my Lumen project, I did mixed-methods research. My mentor and I scaffolded the research into phases. In fall of my junior year we conducted interviews with students, staff, and faculty on campus to learn more about the rhetorical situation for prevention programming at Elon University. In the winter of my junior year, I completed a rhetorical analysis of Elon’s program. When I studied abroad in the spring, I conducted a comparative rhetorical analysis with a prevention program in New Zealand, a country known for some of the best sexual violence prevention in the world. This fall, I am conducting usability tests for the project to collect user-feedback on samples that enact different recommendations from the interviews and rhetorical analyses. 

From this larger research project, I connected with the GLC to design a social media campaign around sexual violence, Elon Empowers. Elon Empowers is a university-wide social media campaign to promote the idea that sexual violence prevention is possible. Especially in a climate like 2020, it’s important to provide positive messaging and action steps people can take to improve their community. For this campaign, we will be analyzing Instagram analytics to determine the effectiveness of materials and will send out a pre- and post-campaign survey to a group of Elon students to further research the effectiveness of Elon Empowers.

What was the most interesting thing (in your opinion) that you’ve found so far in your research?

The most interesting thing I’ve found so far is that prevention programs which empower the users to act, give them the resources to do so, and promote the idea that prevention is possible are the most effective prevention programs. In order to create effective prevention programming, courses need to appeal to shared values, use clear and easy-to-understand language, and provide an overall uplifting narrative with strategies to stop sexual violence instead of simply telling people, “Don’t do it.”

How did the collaboration with the GLC come about?

During the interview phase of my Lumen and Honors research, I interviewed Becca Bishopric Patterson from the GLC. During the interview, we began talking about how students are involved in the GLC and how various Fellows have done projects with the GLC in the past. Becca mentioned how she was interested in creating a social norms campaign, or a communications/professional writing campaign which tries to change the perceptions and beliefs of the viewers through communicating a different message than a common false narrative. From there, I saw the connections between the campaign she was hoping to run and my own research findings. I’d found that many college students don’t believe prevention is possible and/or that they can’t stop sexual violence as bystanders. After the interview, I emailed Becca about the potential of a social norms campaign on the GLC’s Instagram and that’s how Elon Empowers was born. Elon Empowers intends to present the idea that prevention is possible and give Elon students small, tangible ways they can mitigate sexual violence on and off campus. Overall, there’s constantly opportunities which are only an email inquiry away for PWR majors at Elon; the campus community is always so excited when students want to take on projects and research which allows them to use their skills to help our Elon community!

Will you be presenting your research anywhere else, and if so, where and when?

Since the beginning, I have been cognizant about making sure the research is received by those who need it most. As of now, I will be publishing part of my research in the upcoming issue of Young Scholars in Writing and will be presenting it on a panel at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and SURF in Spring of 2021. I will also make sure the research is available to the GLC, the Title IX Office, and anyone else at Elon who might be interested in my findings. I’m also considering some public-facing speaking and writing engagements to share the project. 

What do you hope that your research will accomplish, or what do you hope people take away from your research?

I hope this research can help improve sexual violence prevention at Elon and across the country. I’d also love for people to be able to use this research when considering how they address sexual violence in their own lives. So many times the media, organizations, and individuals use language which places the blame on the victim or they don’t communicate in a clear and effective way about sexual violence and how it can be prevented. Obviously this research is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle, but I’m happy it can contribute to the scholarship and the work being done to help mitigate sexual violence and other barriers to equity and safety for all.

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