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Willamette Students Present Hot Topics at Conference

Five Willamette University students were recently selected to present research papers at the Northwest Communication Association's spring conference in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Seniors Steve Duman from Coeur d'Alene, Colin Gold from Olympia, Wash., Sarah Kassel from Beaverton, Ore., Charlotte "Charli" Hancock from Indianola, Wash., and Becca Legg from Twin Falls, Idaho, presented their papers to more than 200 faculty and students from Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah and South Dakota. Kassel's paper on breast cancer marketing was named overall top paper at the conference. Duman's paper, which discussed Michael Moore's film, "Bowling for Columbine," was recognized as one of the three top papers at the conference and the top paper in his division.

Many of the student papers reflected contemporary issues. Sarah Kassel, a rhetoric and media studies and Spanish major, discussed how breast cancer has become a mass media spectacle that's being taken advantage of by corporations anxious to sell their products. "Corporations tap into the publicity/brand awareness and philanthropy associated with breast cancer to sell their product," says Kassel, whose grandmother is undergoing breast cancer treatment. She points to Yoplait selling special breast cancer cure yogurt and clothing companies making breast cancer cure supporting shoes, jeans, etc. "The ethical considerations of corporations utilizing the emotions attached to the cure of a fatal disease to sell their products is huge."

Indianola's Charli Hancock, a politics and rhetoric major, took on the topic of presidential candidate Howard Dean and how he revolutionized the use of the internet to reach young voters. "Governor Howard Dean's campaign website was specifically geared towards a younger generation of voters called "Generation Dean," she explains. "I looked at how Dean created constituency based on unifying factors like conflict with the older generation."

Colin Gold, a politics major and rhetoric and media studies minor, examined the differences in the media's coverage of Iran and Israel's nuclear capabilities. "Events since September 11, notably the war on terror and the Iraq war, have fueled domestic and international security concerns," he says. "I thought it would be interesting to examine how Western papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post differentiate between Judeo-Christian (Israel) and Islamic (Iran) value systems in their news coverage."

Idaho's Becca Legg, took a slightly different tact when she examined the 1999 cult film "The Boondock Saints." "Director Troy Duffy's method's of storytelling such as manipulations of time (slow motion and accelerated speed), manipulations of order (flash forwards), and the use of the character FBI Agent Smecker all combine to best reach the audience and make this a cult classic," explains Legg, who says she'd like to work as a writer/editor. "For many people, this film changed their lives. I examine why it's effective, how it sends its message and the message it sends."

Selection of papers for inclusion in the Northwest Association's annual conference is competitive. The Northwest Communication Association, a regional chapter of the National Communication Association, promotes the study, criticism, research, teaching and practice of communication. They serve more than 150 member organizations and their annual conference is a way to bring together student and faculty scholars to share ideas about communication.