Monday, September 23, 2013

British Debate Team to Come to Lincoln!

Since 1922, the National Communication Association has sponsored international student exchange tours for the purpose of promoting debate, discussion, and intercultural communication. Renowned for their wit, humor, and eloquence, members of the British National Debate Team tour the United States each year, debating the best and the brightest at our institutions of higher learning.

The Communication Studies Department is pleased to announce that this year, the British debaters will be making a stop at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We invite you to join us for a debate on the topic of government surveillance, to be held Wednesday, October 23, 3:00-5:00pm in the auditorium of the Nebraska Union, City Campus.

The event will be free and open to the public. It promises to be educational and entertaining for students, faculty, staff, and community members interested in communication, civic engagement, international relations, and global politics. When Cambridge University debaters visited Lincoln in October 1927, over 700 spectators reportedly attended the event. We hope to draw a large crowd this year as well, and hope you will join us.


Communication Studies Department

Speech & Debate Program

Center for Civic Engagement

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dr. Dawn O. Braithwaite, Willa Cather Professor of Communication and Chair, appeared on the nationally syndicated National Public Radio program On Point, produced by WBUR in Boston. In the July 30th 2013 show Braithwaite discussed communication during family rituals and family reunions. NPR’s On Point is carried by 260 stations nationwide, with a weekly audience of 1.2 million. The show is available here, and Dr. Braithwaite appears at the 36:40 mark. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Congratulations to Dr. Bill Seiler!

Dr. Bill Seiler, Professor of Communication Studies was selected for induction into the Central States Communication Association Hall of Fame.  The honor was given at the association’s awards luncheon in Kansas City on April 5, 2013. The award honored Bill’s leadership in the association and discipline, especially his groundbreaking work in Instructional Communication at the University of Nebraska.  Bill Seiler came to the UNL in 1972, marking his 41st year on the faculty.  He was Chair of the Communication Studies Department for 21 years before returning to the faculty in 2011.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rob Portman and When "Them" is Part of "Us"

Originally posted on by Jordan Soliz:
Recently, Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) publicly came out in favor of gay-marriage—a reversal of his previously long-held position on this issue. Portman explained that it was in talks with his gay son and thinking about his happiness and rights that led to this change. Prior to discussions with his son and reflections on his belief, we can safely assume that Sen. Portman knew that a significant portion of Americans were denied what Portman described as the opportunity “to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years.” Yet, knowing this was not enough to change his mind on the issue. Rather, it was not until he was able to see the effects of this position on someone he knew intimately that Portman came to the conclusion that forced the change in his stance on marriage equality.  In one sense, this is nothing new. Scholars across many disciplines have devoted significant research on how intergroup contact (i.e., interactions with individuals of different social groups) can change and, often, improve attitudes toward that group. This line of research has included research on intergroup contact and attitudes toward gay men and lesbians (see here, for example). Whereas much of this research focuses on contact between strangers or non-intimate others, the circumstances surrounding Portman’s change in attitudes represents a unique context for attitude change and contact with people representing different social groups--the context of family.

Families have and continue to be far more diverse than typically thought of in terms of diversity in ethnic, religious, political, and sexual identity (as well as many other identities) within the family.  Yet, we still continue to view families as groups of individuals with the same values, attitudes, beliefs, and identities. Unfortunately, little research and practice has focused on families as a site of contact with individuals form different groups. Yet, there are great possibilities in viewing the family in this manner.  Can  interactions with family member with different religious beliefs influence interfaith attitudes? How are attitudes toward aging shaped or changed by relationships with grandparents? Can views on issues related to ethnicity shift because of interethnic family relationships? In short, what are the potential benefits (and consequences) when “them” is actually one of “us?” As demonstrated in the case of Sen. Portman, attitudes can change not just toward the individual but also toward the group as a whole. However, this is not always the case. Perhaps family members accept each other simply because they are family. But, still see no dramatic change in more general attitudes toward the group. Or, unfortunately but by no means uncommon, family relationships may be detrimentally changed due to the recognition of different ethnic, religious, sexual, and many other identities that individuals simply cannot overcome. We know, for instance, that the Portman case is not representative of all families and parent-child relationships. In short, we should view families as both a “significant site for development and transformation of intergroup attitudes.” Under the right circumstances and through more personalized interactions, families hold great promise for improving intergroup relationships as they are a "more intimate group where discourse and dialogue can exist perhaps more easily than other contexts” (Rittenour & Soliz, 2012 in the Handbook of Intergroup Communication).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Join The Voice, a First-Year Learning Community!

We are very excited to be sponsoring a First-Year Learning Community this coming year. A Learning Community is a cohort of students who live together on the same residence hall floor and take some, but not all, of their classes together. TheVoice: Communicating for Social Change gives first year students who are interested in getting involved in the community an opportunity to live and work together. Many students find Learning Community membership to be one of the best parts of their first year because it’s a great way to meet new friends right away, connect with faculty and staff, and make a big university feel small! Start your story at NEBRASKA by being an inaugural member of this exciting community!

The Voice: Communicating for Social Change would be an especially good fit for anyone interested in volunteering, discussing controversial topics, or interested in a career in government, law, or non-profit organizations. As a member of this First-Year Learning Community, you would live on the same floor as other members of the community in Abel Hall.

Members of The Voice will take three courses together, including Public Advocacy and Civic Engagement, Rhetoric in a Digitally Networked Age, and Communication in the 21st Century (all of which will be ACE certified to help meet general education requirements). Each of these courses will focus on the central role of communication in solving society’s problems, how to advocate on behalf of a cause, and how to organize for social change. Although the Department of Communication Studies offers all of these courses, you do not have to be a Communication Studies major to be a member of The Voice.

Students will also be invited to exclusive events and activities, designed specifically for The Voice, such as meeting with visiting speakers and service projects. Such activities include:

*interacting with members of the traveling British Debate team after they participate in a public debate against members of UNL’s Speech and Debate Team. Each year, two representatives of the British debating community tour the United States. That trademark British wit will be on full display! 

*participate in the UNL-sponsored “Alternative Spring Break.” Each year, UNL organizes Alternative Spring Breaks—in 2012, students are rebuilding fence in Ainsworth, NE, helping Habitat for Humanity in Saint Louis, and building an urban garden in Denver. Participation in alternative spring break will be voluntary, but the costs are kept low and the rewards are high!

Students on Alternative Spring Break
*organize “flash forums” around breaking news. Learning Community members will help bring members of the UNL community together around pressing issues. If there is a civic issue that could benefit from community discussion, we will use social media to organize a “flash forum” (like a flash mob, but less weird) to spark conversation.

*we will also have some social activities like bowling and watching a movie together at the Mary Riepma Ross Theater.

Students can apply to be a member of a First-Year Learning Community on their Housing Contract, which is available within two weeks of when the UNL enrollment deposit is submitted. If students have already completed the Housing Contract, they can edit it to add a First-Year Learning Community preference. All contract edits and new contract submissions related to Learning Communities must be completed by April 1, 2013.

The faculty co-sponsors, Dr. Damien S.Pfister (dpfister2 [at] unl [dot] edu) and Dr. Carly S. Woods (cwoods3 [at] unl [dot] edu), would be happy to talk to any interested students about this opportunity. You can also learn more at or contact Learning Communities staff with questions at learningcommunities [at] unl [dot] edu or (402) 472-7128.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spotlight on Research: Activism, Deliberation, and Networked Public Screens

The first part of the article creates “rhetorical scenes,” or dramatic vignettes which utilize a combination of fictional and non-fictional dialogue, protest observation, and auto-ethnographic reflection to highlight tensions between activism and deliberation in real-life scenes of rhetorical activity. The dramatization features three main characters: Anda (an advocate of militant, direct action activism), John (an advocate of discussion, debate, and consensus), and Dajuan (an undergraduate Occupy organizer who attempts to balance the competing perspectives of Anda and John). The play includes five scenes, including snapshots of the protests, the Occupy camp site, and even a heated discussion on Facebook.

Part 2 is a “footnote essay,” a more traditional academic contribution to rhetorical and media scholarship. First, we introduce the concept of “networked public screens” as a way of thinking through the contemporary interconnectedness of screens – from mobile phones, to laptops, pads, etc. – and how they interplay with the production and circulation of activist images. Second, we suggest that, while Occupy opened a moment for rethinking movement politics, the participants in the movement – perhaps constrained by terminology unable to attend to the uniqueness of the moment – tended to reposition it within traditional movement oppositions (e.g., material vs. online place, activism vs. deliberation, old vs. new social movements, and so on). Last, but not least, we outline the process of “constructing rhetorical scenes” as a novel methodology for rhetorical scholarship.

--Josh Ewalt with Damien Pfister

The Awards Keep Rolling In...

GTAs win Teaching Awards

Two of our Graduate Teaching Assistants have won disciplinary teaching awards this spring.  Audra Nuru (MA, University of Central Florida) has won the International Communication Association Instructional and Developmental Communication Division Graduate Assistant Teaching Award.  Her award will presented at ICA’s upcoming London convention. Amanda Holman (MA, University of Montana) has won the Central States Communication Association Cooper Award for a Doctoral Teaching Assistant. Her award will be presented at the CSCA luncheon in Kansas City in April. Both of these are prestigious awards.  The department is committed to excellent instruction and we are so proud of Amanda and Audra!

The Speech & Debate Team, soberly reflecting on their victory

UNL Speech & Debate team wins State Tournament

The UNL Speech & Debate team recently won the State speech and overall titles. The victories occurred at the Nebraska Intercollegiate Forensic Association’s State Tournament on February 16th, hosted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This accomplishment is especially meaningful as the State of Nebraska fielded four of the nation’s Top 20 teams in 2012.  This marks the fourth straight overall State championship for the UNL team.  The team has also placed first in individual events for seven of the past eight years.

UNL won the speech tournament with 145 points, the University of Nebraska-Omaha placed second with 97 points, and Hastings College placed third with 41.5 points. In addition to the team awards, UNL students captured a total of four individual state championships.  Senior Patrick Sather of Bellevue won Poetry Interpretation, junior Josh Planos of Omaha won Dramatic Interpretation, freshman Grace Solem-Pfiefer of Omaha won After Dinner Speaking, and sophomore Reece Ristau of Omaha won Oratory.  By virtue of finishing as the top orator in the state in Oratory, Ristau also qualified to represent the State of Nebraska at the National Interstate Oratory Tournament to be help on April 26-27 in Shreveport. Louisiana. 

The Speech & Debate Team, wackily celebrating their victory

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ageism and the Promise of... Mick Jagger?!?!?

Originally posted on by Jordan Soliz:
I just recently watched a TED talk by Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center on Longevitiy, in which she discusses the research that shows people are actually happier as they age into older adulthood. What made this talk interesting and why I suggest people listen to it (or watch it) is that it goes against many of our attitudes about older adulthood and aging which are typically fairly negative. In fact, Dr. Mary Kite and her colleagues synthesized the research that compared people’s attitudes toward older and younger adults and, not surprisingly, found that we typically perceive younger adults more positively than older adults and still hold negative views toward older adults. Obviously, these negative attitudes have implications for how many people treat and interact with older adults just as we would expect when thinking about negative attitudes towards ethnic and religious groups. In fact, in one of his farewell addresses, the Archbishop of Canterbury made it a point to emphasize ending stereotypes and negative attitudes toward older adults (HT: Craig Fowler) as ageism remains a common form of prejudice. Yet, ageism does not receive the same amount of attention as other “isms.” But, beyond the significance of improving our attitudes toward older adults and aging for the sake of others, we should also do it for ourselves! Why? For two reasons. First, we all get older so improving attitudes toward older adults will only serve us well in the future. Second, we know that our attitudes toward aging are directly linked to happiness and well-being in later life. This is fairly intuitive--if I have negative views towards aging and older adults, I am more likely to meet this part of my lifespan with discouragement, pessimism, and, thus, have a higher chance for depression or a general negative outlook on life. 

How do we improve these attitudes and recognize what Dr. Carstensen and others have discussed in terms of the positive side of aging and older adulthood? Our negative attitudes and stereotypes toward aging are pretty ingrained in us and we live in a culture which treats aging as something that should be avoided (i.e., “anti-aging”)… as if we have a choice! So, changing these perceptions and attitudes is easier said than done. Building off research focused on improving interethnic relations, scholars have examined if intergenerational contact can improve attitudes toward older adults and aging. In my own research, I have connected experiences with grandparents (which are fairly positive) with improved intergenerational attitudes. But, this only provides one piece of the puzzle. Much like our efforts towards reducing negative attitudes toward ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, we should be just as active in reducing ageist attitudes.  This may be difficult or it may just be a matter of us being more discerning about what we see and experience and realize the variety of experiences involved in this thing called "aging."  As I was reminded recently in discussions of their reunion tour on the radio,  Mick Jagger is nearly 70 years old. Yet, he is still strutting around on stage singing about his lack of satisfaction among other things (quick side note: "Beast of Burden" is the best Stones' song). When we think of a 69-year old man, what comes to mind? Its probably not Mick Jagger---not likely, right? But, the question we should ask is: "why not?"