First off, a warm welcome back to the school year! We are in our second week of school here on the Hilltop. We are happy to welcome many new students to our major and very excited to welcome one new faculty member!
(Drum roll please…)
I am excited today to introduce you to our new faculty member, Professor Brandi Lawless!
Now, some of you may already be familiar with Professor Lawless. That’s because she taught part time for us here last year. But, we liked her so much, we hired her full-time! I asked her to answer a few questions for us so that we can get to know here better. Here she is…
Q: Tell us about your academic background:
Professor Lawless: “I received my B.A. in Communication Studies from California State University, Northridge. Because of my participation on the speech and debate team, I continued on for a Masters degree in Communication Studies at San Francisco State University. While I studied there, I found out that I was more passionate about teaching and research than coaching a speech team. So, I went on to earn a Ph.D. in Communication from The University of New Mexico.”
Q: Give us a brief explanation of your dissertation and research interests.
Professor Lawless: “My dissertation “Ending Poverty? Critical Interrogations of Class Subjectivities, Agency and Ideologies in Discursive and Embodied Texts From a U.S. Nonprofit” looks at how identities are shaped by language and discourse at various levels (i.e., by society, training materials, organizations, interpersonal relationships, etc.). I worked with one nonprofit organization trying to end poverty by pairing up people in the lower class with people in the middle class. I analyzed their training materials, observed meetings, and interviewed over 60 people involved in the organization. One thing I found was that the often white and affluent allies were teaching the people in poverty (often people of color) how to act and talk white. This is problematic because it ignores race-based oppressions and perpetuates stereotypes. Since writing my dissertation, the nonprofit I worked with took many of my recommendations into consideration and has been working closely with me to design and pilot a new curriculum for their participants.
Though most of my research looks at the intersections of race, class, and other components of our identities, I am also interested in International Peace Building. Last summer I spent three weeks in Kenya, interviewing women involved in peace-building initiatives. I am currently working with two co-authors to create a peace-building model that considers the best practices that the women we interviewed mentioned.”
Q: What classes have you taught?
Professor Lawless: “Before teaching at USF, I taught a number of classes including: Intercultural Communication, Intracultural Communication, Communication for Teachers, Mediation, Persuasion, Introduction to Communication, Public Speaking, Forensics (Speech and Debate), and Interpersonal Communication. So far, I have taught COMS 203: Communication and Everyday Life, COMS 204: Communication and Culture, and COMS 254: Qualitative Research Methods. In the Spring, I will teach COMS 356: Organizational Communication. This class will look at culture, identity, and discourse within the context of organizations. In the future, you might see me teaching Intercultural Communication or a new class related to my research interests. Keep an eye out!”
Q: What are your first impressions of USF, the Communication Studies Department, and San Francisco?
Professor Lawless: “As some of you know, I was teaching at USF part-time before I became a full-time faculty member. Having taught part-time at other colleges and universities, I can truly say that USF is by far the most welcoming and friendly. USF is an amazing place and I feel at home here. Students and faculty walk and talk the social justice mission of the university—something very important to who I am as a person and as a researcher. As far as San Francisco is concerned—we really are at the University of the Best City Ever! I love the diversity of our city, the art, the people, and the food!”
Q: What are a few things that you like to do outside of school?
Professor Lawless: “I have a number of hobbies that could be split up into two categories: (1) Things that are physically and intellectually stimulating and (2) things that rot my brain. In the first category, I love to play guitar, sing, read fiction, ski, do yoga, and watch live art. This year, I have season passes to the theater and am excited to check out all of the SF Broadway musicals! In the second category, I watch a lot of television…t.v. that would be considered the equivalent of junk food. I love watching bad reality television, HGTV makeover shows, and ABC Family teenage dramas. Everyone has a vice, right?”
Q: How did you become interested in intercultural communication and being a professor?
Professor Lawless: “From age eight I knew exactly what I wanted to be…a singer. But, life has its twists and turns. After a series of medical problems related to my vocal cords, I determined that aiming for Broadway was not a viable option for me. I decided to declare a Communication Studies major as a step toward becoming a motivational speaker. I quickly found out that Communication Studies has little to do with the art of public speaking and much more to do with everyday relationships and discourses. I fell in love with the major.
I decided to become a teacher because I had a very good teacher who encouraged me to do so. I knew I wasn’t really a kid person and that teaching college-aged students was a better fit. My first day in the classroom was one of the best days of my life. I knew I had found my calling.
I became interested in intercultural communication in graduate school. One day in class, we were talking about how social class is related to culture. The discussion got very personal and I decided that I would write my thesis on the topic. Further discussions about marginalized communities and social justice really resonated with me. I veered away from my original focus (rhetoric) and started taking more classes in the intercultural focus.”
Please join me in welcoming Professor Lawless to USF and the Communication Studies Department!