Jennifer Anderson earns CSCA Federation Prize

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BROOKINGS — Jennifer Anderson, an associate professor of communication studies in the School of Communication and Journalism at South Dakota State University, has been named the Federation Prize recipient from the Central States Communication Association. Along with Anderson, two collaborators, Sydney O’Shay, an assistant professor from Utah State University, and Kailin E. Phillips, an assistant professor at Baylor University, were named as recipients.

“This award means a lot me, because it represents our disciplinary colleagues’ belief in the value of our work,” Anderson said. “This award is about making a significant contribution to the discipline of communication. That’s a major career goal for any scholar, myself included. So it’s a dream come true to achieve that goal. Just as exciting is the opportunity to work on a topic I’m passionate about with two incredible scholars.”

The CSCA is one of the top regional organizations in the communication discipline. It promotes rigorous scholarship and sponsors numerous research awards. The Federation Prize promotes intellectual development and communication scholarship by awarding a $5,000 cash prize to selected research proposals that will advance the communication discipline.

For this award, Anderson, O’Shay and Phillips submitted a research proposal to develop a tool to measure how people manage stigma through various communication strategies. As Anderson explains, stigmas develop through communication when people get labeled and devalued by society because of some attribute like mental illness or a disability.

Anderson and her colleagues are interested in what happens after a person becomes stigmatized.

They are looking to answer practical questions like, “How do you manage if you have some kind of stigmatized condition or characteristic? Do you just accept the stigma, or do you try to challenge it? What communication strategies are people using to manage stigma? And do those strategies work?”

As Anderson explains, even though we assume that there are links between the use of certain strategies and important outcomes like coping or self-esteem, previous research on this topic has failed to empirically establish them. That’s because there is not a way to measure those strategies — and that’s what Anderson and her colleagues are aiming to develop.

So far, Anderson, O’Shay, and Phillips have developed a pilot scale to measure these strategies. The scale is part of a large survey that will be completed by hundreds of students across three campuses (SDSU, Utah St. and Baylor) who identify as having mental illness. The survey also includes measures of self-esteem, coping, and other psychosocial variables. Based on the findings from that survey, their measurement scale will be revised and then sent out to a nationally-representative sample of people who experience diverse forms of stigma. The finalized scale will be freely available for future researchers to use.

“Dr. Anderson has become a leading scholar in the area of stigma communication,” said Joshua Westwick, director of SDSU’s School of Communication and Journalism. “The CSCA Federation Prize recognizes the significance of this work and the potential for innovations in measuring stigma. This award will allow her and her colleagues to make a meaningful and transformative contribution to the discipline.”

The impetus behind this project began when Anderson, O’Shay and Phillips — each of whom have expertise in the communication field—met at last year’s convention and began brainstorming possible research studies.

“We’ve all studied stigma before and since we are communication people, we decided to dive deeper into this topic of how people use communication to manage stigma,” Anderson said.

The trio was awarded the prize at an awards luncheon at the Central States Communication Association Annual Convention in St. Louis, on March 31. At next year’s convention, they will present their findings from this study.