Summer Scholars Spotlight: Virginia Graves

by anlindo on February 12, 2024

Photo Credits: Lee Ann Graves

Senior Virginia Graves (Communications major & foreign policy and history minor ‘24) conducted research last summer with mentor, Dr. Martinez-Carrillo as part of the Summer Scholars program. Virginia knew she wanted to conduct research while at Roanoke and started thinking of topics in freshman year. Her project, “The evolution of hate speech and its consequences”, came about when she started taking communications and mass communications classes and realized the power it can have in manipulating thoughts and ideas. She took a personal interest in interpersonal communication and the dynamics of hate speech. Previous research revealed a connection between hate speech and violence, but she wanted to cover a topic that had not been researched enough.

Virginia says her research process has been going extremely well and her advisor, Dr. Martinez-Carrillo, has helped her along the whole way. This was her first time doing research and she was doubting herself, but found that the support she received along the way was helpful; she was able to prove to herself that she could do it. She said the Summer Scholars program is a great way to be introduced to research as a beginner. 

Her research required her to examine hate speech in three different mediums, newspapers in Nazi Germany (1940-1945), radio in Rwanda (1994), and social media in the United States (2023). Her choice of three separate mediums is because she wanted to educate on different types of mass communication and she chose three different countries to show that hate speech is not an issue just in the United States. It has been around for a long time and it is in other cultures; they use different words but the same meaning. When asked what the most difficult part of her research was, she said reading the hate speech was extremely difficult, wondering how people could say such hurtful things about each other. 

The first half of her research involved compiling the literature review and initial primary source analysis and the second half focuses on framing the project in the current global context. This entails an analysis of the relationship between hate speech and freedom of speech and how the two interact online. By conducting a thematic analysis, she has found that hate speech has not evolved and the themes carry through all mediums in different countries and time periods. People are still using hate speech to distinguish between in-groups and out-groups like religion. Furthermore, she explained how the connection between freedom of speech and hate speech differs in different countries. As she was doing research on radio hate speech in Rwanda, she found that it was extremely impactful, but the rules changed when the Rwandan Ambassador for the UN came to the United States to use a radio transmitter and was denied use in the United States because it opposed freedom of speech. This sort of interaction brings up the idea of where we draw the line when it comes to freedom of speech. 

In the completion of this project, Virginia hopes to answer the question for herself as she has very strong feelings regarding freedom of speech. She wants to go into PR or marketing and says this project was a good writing experience and it taught her how to be resourceful and gain confidence in her work. She is hoping for a publication of her work and that future students will expand on her work.

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