KU News Service

Study explores whether media usage can predict beliefs on racial, gender equality

Wed, 09/03/2014

LAWRENCE — Egalitarianism, the philosophy that all people should be treated equally both socially and politically, has existed much longer than most media formats, but two University of Kansas professors have authored research examining whether individuals’ media usage can predict their support for the egalitarian value of racial equality.

Tien-Tsung Lee, associate professor of journalism, and Yvonnes Chen, assistant professor of journalism, analyzed survey data of thousands of Americans finding that support for racial equality is part of three egalitarian dimensions: racial attitudes, gender roles and attitudes toward sexual minorities. The researchers compared respondents’ types of media usages to answers they gave to questions asking about issues ranging from religious and political beliefs to openness to other cultures and roles of men and women.

“I thought, ‘Maybe people who support racial equality would support equality for others as well,’ but wanted to learn more,” Lee said. “We found most media don’t have any association with this support. Only four or five had an effect, which didn’t surprise us.”

Lee’s previous research has shown that media do not tend to influence people’s political or other beliefs; rather, individuals hold beliefs and choose to consume media that reflect and enforce them. This study, however, found that people who support equality tend to consume blogs, online videos and radio while tending not to use online professional networks as often as those who do not.

Lee and Chen presented the research at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications conference in Montreal in August.

Lee and Chen analyzed data from a global marketing agency, which since 1975 has gathered a wide range of survey data on American adult consumers. The 2008 survey, the most recent available, had information from more than 7,000 respondents.

The findings showed that people who support racial equality also largely supported gender equality. Conversely, racism, sexism and homophobia were tightly connected as well, with individuals who did not support equality among the races also answering that they did not support equality for women or sexual minorities as well. The survey gathered such data by asking about racism (if people would vote for an African-American if their political party were to nominate one and their opinion on inter-racial marriage), sexism (whether they believe mothers should be in the workforce and if men make better leaders) and homophobia (if they support equal rights for same-sex couples).

One valuable aspect of the study is the finding that people who support the egalitarian values of racial, gender and sexual equality tend to use certain types of media, which can provide insight for groups trying to reach those audiences. In a wide-open media landscape, it can be difficult to reach target demographics, but blogs, online videos and radio were common among those supporting equality.

Lee cautioned against drawing or attempting to confirm stereotypes based on the findings. For example, many of the people who reported being religious also indicated support for all three measures of equality, including for samesex couples. And others who claimed to be politically liberal did not automatically support such equality. However, the data does suggest that organizations that work to support equality for certain groups can effectively work together with organizations aimed at others, as the audiences often overlap.

The researchers hope to expand on the research by looking more closely at the types of media people consume and their beliefs on equality. The survey data did not differentiate which types of blogs people read or whether they listened to conservative talk radio over other types, for example. The study was among the first to compare egalitarianism and media habits, and the authors hope to build on that.

“One interpretation is that there are just so many media channels out there that you can’t make assumptions,” Lee said. “You can read blogs that are conservative or liberal or watch videos from any number of perspectives. If you really want to study media effects, you have to specify.”

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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