Student-professor duo tackle homelessness, sexual violence at IMPACT Conference

MEDIA, Pa. — Recently, Penn State was represented at the national IMPACT Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, by Brandywine senior Monet Bradford and Instructor in Communications Arts and Sciences Joshua Phillips.

Phillips, who recently published a book about homelessness and public policy, presented research that he gathered during the writing process. Bradford presented an independent research project about the portrayal of consent and sexual violence in pop culture.

Bradford, a communication arts and sciences major, found inspiration for her project while grappling with the presence of sexual violence on college campuses.

“I wondered, ‘why does this keep happening? Do people not understand the definition of consent?’” said Bradford. “Then I began to ask myself when I learned the definition of consent — and I was surprised to find that it was really in college.”

With her curiosity sparked, Bradford applied for an independent study with Phillips, who helped her design a semester-long exploration of sexually violent messages in popular films and music.

“Since I want to go to graduate school, Dr. Phillips treated this like a grad course,” she said. “I wrote a 25-page paper and completed a literature review long before I presented at the conference.”

At IMPACT, Bradford shaped her presentation around two examples of sexual violence in pop culture: an Ariana Grande song called “Dangerous Woman” and the popular television show “Game of Thrones.”

“The first line of the Grande song is, ‘You don’t need permission,’ and that’s in a sexual context,” said Bradford. “And as far as ‘Game of Thrones’ is concerned, this project made me realize how much pornography, nudity and rape culture are part of the show — and it’s been one of our most popular TV shows since 2011.”

After showing her audience an Ariana Grande music video and discussing plot points in “Game of Thrones,” Bradford led a discussion about the portrayals of men, women, consent and sexual violence in each medium.

“United States law mandates that teachers cannot talk about certain terms in a high school setting,” she said. “That’s the age you ought to be learning sexual responsibility, especially before you become independent on a college campus.”

Bradford emphasized that without serious education about consent and sexual violence, most young people learn about those topics from their entertainment sources.

“About 95 percent of Ariana Grande’s fan base ranges from ages 14 to 21,” she said. “Think about what her music communicates to someone who’s 14 or in college — especially as an artist who has declared herself a feminist. These are questions we need to ask ourselves.”

Bradford and Phillips were both warmly received by conference attendees; their presentations each attracted more than 40 participants and received positive feedback.

“Several people were interested in my book on homelessness,” Phillips said, “and after Monet’s presentation, some people said it was the best workshop they had been to at the conference.”

Phillips also spoke highly of Bradford’s presentation, which he co-facilitated.

“She took charge of a room for 75 minutes and led on her own,” he said. “She was completely professional, from preparing beforehand to handling questions after the session had ended. On the plane ride home, she was already talking about next year.”

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Last Updated February 24, 2017