Skip to main content

Faculty Focus

Chief diversity officer to have SoC appointment

Following a national search, Robin R. Means Coleman last fall was named Northwestern’s vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, roles she began on February 1.

“I am deeply honored to join Northwestern University,” Coleman says. “I will have the great privilege of working with members of Northwestern’s campuses—as well as with alumni and our external partners—to advance the strategic goals of further improving campus climate, fostering belonging, increasing diversity, and evidencing accountability. Together we will work to make the experiences of every Wildcat—students, faculty, and staff— even better and ensure that we all thrive.”

Coleman comes to Northwestern from Texas A&M University, where she was vice president and associate provost for diversity and a professor in the department of communication. She is a nationally prominent and award-winning scholar of communication and African American studies, with a focus on media studies and the cultural politics of Blackness. She has written several books, including Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present and African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor.

Coleman will hold a tenured appointment as the inaugural Ida B. Wells and Ferdinand Barnett Professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication and courtesy appointments in the school’s Department of Radio/Television/Film and the Department of African American Studies in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“It is quite a coup that Northwestern was able to recruit Robin Means Coleman to be our next chief diver- sity officer,” says dean E. Patrick Johnson. “She has been a trailblazer in diversity, equity, and inclusion for many years. Now we will be the beneficiary of her deft leadership as we navigate our own journey toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Northwestern. I’m also delighted that Professor Coleman will have a tenured appointment in the School of Communication, where our students and faculty will encounter her transformative scholarship and teaching.”

Masi Asare (PhD, New York University) launched the Voicing across Distance podcast for voice scholars and practitioners to dis- cuss voices in the time of COVID-19. To date, its 10 episodes have been played nearly 1,000 times and featured 19 guests, including leading scholars of musicology, theatre studies, and media studies as well as linguistics and voice coaches and singers working in such genres as musical theatre, experimental music, and indie rock. Last summer Asare was invited to create a dedicated artist page for her songwriting on the web- site Broadway on Demand, which features rarely seen videos of her musical theatre writing along with new pandemic- era songs, all free to watch. Last fall her play The Strong Friend, and Company premiered in the virtual collection Days of Re-Creation—short plays by artists of color, available to produce free of royalties by arrangement with the theatre company Live & in Color.

Danielle Bainbridge (PhD, Yale University) was the writer, researcher, and host of The Origin of Everything, a history show produced by PBS Digital. The show’s 10-minute episodes cover such topics as the origins of the term “African American,” the science behind boy bands, and why people have pets. The show is billed as exploring every aspect of our daily reality, from the words we use and the pop culture we love to the technology that gets us through the day and the identities we give ourselves. Bainbridge, a self- described history nerd, filled each episode with little-known facts, historical photos, a scholar’s sense of discernment, and her wit. The show ended this winter; episodes are at

Danielle Beverly (MFA, Columbia College Chicago) completed a year-and-a-half film festival tour of her latest feature documentary, Dusty Groove: The Sound of Transition, which follows a Chicago used-vinyl buyer and the people who sell him their prized record collections as they navigate both difficult and liberating life transitions. The film won for best music film at the Macon Film Festival and best feature at the South Georgia Film Festival. Beverly was also selected as a Chicago Screen Gem by Newcity.

Jeremy Birnholtz (PhD, University of Michigan) published two articles last fall in Social Media + Society about the online behaviors of gay men: “Layers of Marginality: An Exploration of Visibility, Impressions, and Cultural Context on Geospatial Apps for Men Who Have Sex with Men in Mumbai, India” and “Sensitive Sharing on Social Media: Exploring Willingness to Disclose PrEP Usage among Adolescent Males Who Have Sex with Males.” This study revealed that most participants would be unlikely to disclose on social media that they take medication to prevent HIV infection (PrEP), while some participants would disclose on platforms that their friends but not their families would see; disclosure was more likely among participants who thought their peers might be using PrEP.

Stephen Cone (BA, University of South Carolina) was a featured artist in the Criterion Channel’s “Three by . . .” series in August. Criterion screened Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, Princess Cyd, and The Wise Kids, noting that the filmmaker “has quietly garnered a reputation as one of American independent cinema’s most thoughtful and compassionate artists . . . a true actor’s director, working intimately with a cast of regulars to tell naturalistic, deeply human stories about coming of age, coming out, and the intricacies of modern-day religion.”

The Lady from the Sea

Director Shana Cooper (MFA, Yale School of Drama) and set designer Andrew Boyce (MFA, Northwestern) were collaborating on Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea at Chicago’s Court Theatre, with costumes designed by Linda Roethke (MFA, University of Iowa), when it closed in March just before the first performance. Boyce’s set design remained at the theater for seven months, frozen in time. Cooper and her fellow artists decided to capture photos before the set was taken down, tracking the journey and isolation of artists and theaters during the pandemic. The team is organizing the photos for a retrospective they hope to share soon.

Elizabeth Gerber (PhD, Stanford University) and her national initiative Design for America, which uses design thinking to tackle societal problems, partnered in September with the Watson Foundation, a union that will provide more opportunities for participants to collaborate and share their work. DFA also partnered with the World Design Organization and IBM to host a global design hackathon to address COVID-19.

Students from Erik Gernand’s virtual film festival shared their work via Zoom

Erik Gernand (MFA, Northwestern) had big plans for the 10th anniversary of the annual two-day filmmaking festival for incoming undergraduates. The event typically takes place over a weekend on cam- pus: students are given a camera and prompts and then set loose to make films. Due to COVID-19, the event moved to a virtual format this year—which worked surprisingly well. Throughout September and October, six first-year producers each led a team of students who worked together during a weekend in October to create films virtually. On the final night, the group met together via Zoom to screen the finished products. Students joined from locations across the US and as far away as China and Turkey.

Cindy Gold (MFA, Professional Actor Training Program, Alabama Shakespeare Festival) performed in the Goodman Theatre’s 2020 radio-drama production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Jessica Thebus. Gold also welcomed Zoom guest speakers to her classes, including Broadway director Marcia Milgrom Dodge.

Ana Kuzmanic (MFA, Northwestern), with Jaharis Family Chair in Performance Studies Mary Zimmerman (PhD, Northwestern), led an exciting student project in lieu of the Prague Quadrennial, where they have taken students for its last several iterations. Eight MFA design students worked together with teams from around the world on theoretical design solutions for The White Plague, a 1937 piece by Czech playwright Karel C˘apek. The goal was to offer students, in the wake of canceled projects, a chance to find artistic inspiration through an 80-year-old play that eerily anticipated many of the dangers the world faces today. The Prague Quadrennial organizers asked participating artists: What is the relationship between traditional, text-based plays and performance design in 2020? How can performance designers engage with these texts to create relevant theatrical experiences for modern audiences? And how, as visual dramaturges, can performance designers assume creative leadership of a text-based production?

Bruce Lambert (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign) and principal investigator Howard Kim, assistant professor of emergency medicine in the Feinberg School of Medicine, were awarded a five-year, $1.8 million grant to study physical therapy as an alternative to opioids in treating lower back pain in Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s emergency department. In nearly two-thirds of the 4 million annual emergency department visits for lower back pain, opioids are prescribed—with consistently poor outcomes. Evidence suggests that using physical therapy as treatment may improve patient-reported functioning and decrease opioid use.

Viorica Marian (PhD, Cornell University) and her research team in the Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Research Group shifted their data collection and project meetings to an online format during the pandemic. The group continues to study bilingualism, multilingualism, bidialectalism, linguistic diversity, languages, and dialects and, in 2020, has published studies in the peer- reviewed journals Languages, Journal of Child Language, International Journal of Bilingualism, Journal of Neurolinguistics, Applied Linguistics, Language and Speech, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Applied Psycholinguistics, Learning Culture and Social Interaction, and others.

Students Lead Remote Virtual Seminars During Pandemic to Help Those with Hearing Loss
Typically, Northwestern University’s Center for Audiology, Speech, Language, and Learning (NUCASLL) holds classes to support those with hearing loss. Though popular, they had to be halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Northwestern’s doctor of audiology students adapted, though, and put together virtual presentations on “Communication Strategies and Successfully Wearing Hearing Aids with Masks,” “Simple Hearing Aid Cleaning and Cell Phone Connectivity,” as well as “Wireless Hearing Aid Accessories.” The sessions were presented live on Zoom and were well received by both the participants and the students. The remote sessions will continue as long as there is interest from the community. For more information on the mini-clinic offerings, email or like the Facebook Page.

Dominic Missimi (LRAM, Royal Academy of Music) published Nicky: A Memoir about growing up in a “colorful” Italian American family in the 1950s. The book details his childhood, his Northwestern teaching career, and the joys of raising his children.

Stephan Moore (PhD, Brown University) collaborated on a performance piece that was nominated last fall for two New York Dance and Performance Awards. The Last Audience, by interdisciplinary artist collective a canary torsi, was nominated in the outstanding production category, and Moore’s score and sound design was one of four nominees for outstanding music composition/sound design. The Last Audience premiered in New York in October 2019 and has been adapted for virtual presentation by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Erik Nisbet (PhD, Cornell University), Owen L. Coon Professor of Policy Analysis and Communication and director of the Center for Communication and Public Policy, received three awards last summer and fall to study the social media spread of misinformation about COVID-19 and the presidential election. With support from Facebook, Nisbet is examining how citizens’ exposure to a shifting mix of information of varying accuracy during the final months before the election shaped their perceptions of electoral integrity and fairness and their commitment to the democratic process. The second grant, from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, allows Nisbet and coresearchers at Battelle Memorial Institute and Ohio State University to identify, quantify, and monitor risks associated with global misinformation spread about COVID-19. The third, from the National Science Foundation, targets the impact of COVID-19 misinformation on preventive health behaviors, policy attitudes, and people’s trust in science and government. “Misinformation—whether purposely or accidentally spread, whether from domestic or foreign sources—pollutes our political discourse and amplifies partisan discord that severely hampers our ability to deal with critical policy and health issues,” Nisbet says. “We are developing an automated early-warning system designed to identify and assess the risk presented by the spread of foreign, online COVID-19 misinformation for use by our government’s intelligence agencies.”

Daniel O’Keefe (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign), the Owen L. Coon Professor of Argumentation and Debate, received the Outstanding Health Communication Scholar Award, jointly presented annually by the health communication divisions of the National Communication Association and the International Communication Association. The award was conferred at the NCA’s virtual annual conference in November.

From left: Scene from Stephan Moore’s The Last Audience; Eric Patrick’s Lines of Exile

Lines of Exile, the new short animation by Eric Patrick (BUS, University of New Mexico), was screened at festivals in seven countries, including at the Intermediaciones Muestra de Videoarte y Video Experimental in Medellín, Colombia, and the Animaevka festival of animated films in Belarus.

Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, the 1984 book by Janice Radway (PhD, Michigan State University), was translated by Shuchen Hu into Mandarin and published in August in Beijing by YiLin Press. A chapter was also translated into French by Delphine Chedaleux and published as part of a special issue of the journal Théorème from Université Sorbonne Nouvelle–Paris 3.

Students of Delaney Family Research Professor Michelle Shumate (PhD, University of Southern California) in her undergraduate nonprofit communication management class produced two types of fall quarter final projects. The first was a nonprofit communication campaign; because they are scattered around the country, students produced campaigns for organizations in their hometowns, including New York City’s Bluelaces Theatre Company and New Mexico’s Barrett Foundation. The remaining students participated in a collaborative content-creation assignment, identifying how nonprofits have adapted during the pandemic, with a goal of producing resources for the sector.

Jacob Smith (PhD, Indiana University), in the winter 2020 online issue of Journal of Sonic Studies, published “The Ptero- poetics of Birdstrike,” an experimental radio documentary that features an interview with Roxie Laybourne, who pioneered the study of forensic ornithology. He also published “The Ecopoetic Potential of a Citizen Science Audio Database: Uploading John Clare to Xeno-canto” in Journal of Environmental Media and “Travels with Jack: ZBS’s Post- Network Radio  Adventure” in Resonance.

Elizabeth Son (PhD, Yale University) received the Bonnie Ritter Outstanding Feminist Book Award from the National Communication Association, Feminist and Gender Studies Division, for Embodied Reckonings: “Comfort Women,” Performance, and Transpacific Redress.

Performers and spectators gather at an “Art of Spontaneous Spectacle” event at Loyola Beach in September

Jessica Thebus (MFA, Northwestern), Shana Cooper (MFA, Yale School of Drama), and Julie Marie Myatt (BS, Appalachian State University) last summer and fall organized a series of pop-up theatre productions in Chicago that drew masked, distanced crowds to experience new works in non- traditional formats. “The Art of Spontaneous Spectacle” events brought artists, musicians, and puppeteers to Loyola Beach for theatrical processions and encouraged audience participation.

The film Cassandra by David Tolchinsky (MFA, University of Southern California) features the voice talents of radio/ television/film professor Thomas Bradshaw (MFA, Brooklyn College) and production assistance and social media by Genevieve Kane (C20). It received awards for best short at Genreblast Film Festival, best horror film at Oxford International Shorts Film Festival, best thriller short and best editing at the Women in Horror Film Festival, and best director at Atlanta Underground Film Festival. Tolchinsky had previously won for best directing of a crime short at Anatomy Crime&Horror International Film Festival. The film was screened at the outdoor version of the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, the drive-in version of Blackbird Film Festival, and the online versions of five other festivals: Milwaukee Twisted Dreams, Vortex, Ravenna Nightmare, Galician Freaky, and London’s Unrestricted View. Cassandra is available to stream on the Alter platform, where it has received over 100,000 views.

Nathan Walter (PhD, University of Southern California) and fellow researchers were awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health, with an administrative supplement from the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research in Chicago, to study social marketing campaigns that promote awareness of pre-exposure pro- phylaxis among Cook County adolescents. Teens and young adults account for over 20 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the US, most of which occur among members of minority groups. Social marketing campaigns have the potential to address these populations and generate better outcomes.

Adriana Weisleder (PhD, Stanford University) received support from the Delaney Family Fund for Research and Communication to study a pediatric-based intervention to reduce disparities in Latino children’s language development. She presented some findings from this work in October at a virtual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics and won the best poster award at the presentations for the Council on Early Childhood.