About Me

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I am an Assistant Professor of Practice in Communication Studies. My research is located at the intersection of health, identity and discourse and is informed by my background in Organizational Communication with an overall objective of addressing inequities in healthcare access across populations by examining communicative processes that contribute to institutionalized inequities. My hope is to contribute to an understanding of the relationship between micro/macro level discourses within the healthcare system to improve patient access to quality care across populations. This will include research aimed at improving communication among medical providers, between medical providers and patients, between healthcare institutions, and between health institutions and individuals.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A perspective on the 2016 presidential election

Like most of America, the 2016 presidential election is on my mind. Every election season, tensions rise, emotions run high, and people shut down from talking "politics". This is truly a shame. Our democracy is based on we the people. We should be discussing the pros and cons of our candidates. We should be talking about what we think is best for our country and why. We should be doing this in a civilized, respectful way--and we should be open to one another's thoughts and opinions. Of course, very few of us experience campaign seasons in this way. Very few of us engage in positive, constructive conversations with others--that is, others that disagree or hold different opinions. We talk all day long with people who agree with us--but that's not terribly productive, is it?

This election is unique. Like all elections, it's important. No candidate has emerged as a champion of the people or as a principled, ethical leader. We just aren't there as a country--though I hope and pray that we get there someday soon. This election, some people whole-heartedly back Hillary Clinton. Others whole-heartedly back Donald Trump. Most people seem to be where I see myself--not in strong support of either candidate while recognizing that it is my civic duty and moral obligation to vote. So, in light of this, very early in this process I put aside the fact that I disliked both candidates and got down to the business of trying to learn as much as I could about each candidate. I did this by seeking information from a variety of sources, always seeking to balance what I saw as inherent biases toward one or the other candidate. Ultimately, what I learned is that both of our presidential candidates are liars and opportunists. Both are interested in self-preservation and personal power. These interests in power are framed very differently--and we can speculate all day as to why that is--is it because one is a woman and one is a man? Is it because one is a career politician and one is an "outsider"?  Both of these candidates have been caught in lies and deceit repeatedly over the course of their respective careers--and neither has been held to account for these actions. Both of these candidates have engaged in fraudulent, secretive behavior to advance personal gain at the expense of those with less power than them throughout their respective careers. If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior--there is nothing that sets these two candidates apart for me. Nothing.

With this in mind, I turn my attention to trying to evaluate which of these two candidates is best able to lead the country based on how they articulate their positions on the key issues facing this country and all of this country's citizens. We all learned very, very quickly, that this was not going to be a campaign season that would afford us the opportunity to talk about the issues that are important to us, the American people. It was clear from the beginning that this was going to be about 'Crooked Hillary' against 'The Outsider Candidate'. Based on this frame, the media clearly privileged Donald Trump in their coverage in 2015-2016--affording him 3 times as much media coverage as any other candidate seeking a nomination and resulting in a media bias in his favor. News outlets couldn't get enough--and he reaped the benefits. We then shifted to making sexual assault central to this campaign. Make no mistake--the Trump campaign initiated this shift and continued to fan the proverbial fire of this shift right up to the point that it began burning him. Now, even as his top surrogates chastise the media for highlighting this issue, the candidate himself won't stop talking about it--at his rallies, through twitter.

So--since the Trump campaign not only opened the door to centralizing this issue but continues to keep it front and center--this has become a central tenet on how I will evaluate these two candidates. Why? Because sexual assault is an incredibly important issue. Rape culture is an incredibly important issue. It's not the issue that I started this election cycle prioritizing in terms of evaluating a presidential candidate--I honestly assumed that both candidates that earned a major party nomination would be on the same page with regard to squashing rape culture and the sexist attitudes that inhibit the women of this country in achieving their full potential. Sadly, I was wrong--and now it has become a very important defining issue of this campaign. This is about protecting who we are as a nation. Plain and simple.

This leads me to one of my core values--and one that guides my evaluation of each candidate's positions and policies.  I place a high value on our responsibility to preserve the dignity of every human being.  Preserving human dignity is a complex edict. Human dignity means that every human life is treated with dignity and respect. Dignity and respect. Take a look at our two candidates. How is Trump treating anyone with dignity and respect? He marginalizes all those who are different than him--and these are populations that are, in fact, vulnerable. He mocks the disabled. He mocks the dying--asking them to "hang on long enough to vote him in". He mocks minorities. If anyone dares disagree with this man, he ridicules them, calling them pathetic losers, ugly (too ugly to sexually assault--ANOTHER serious issue).

I know many people feel trapped and see this election as one of the most painful elections they've ever been through because some feel, based on religious beliefs, beholden to the one candidate that claims to be pro-life despite his consistent hateful and divisive rhetoric. To those friends of mine who feel that they must vote Trump because of his articulation of a pro-life stance, I would emphasize the importance of evaluating the character of this man. Evaluate his history. He only articulated a pro-life stance when he began seriously considering a run for the presidency--he was pro-choice for most of his adult life. We all know and understand that politicians--even novice politicians--know how to hold blocks of voters captive. All they have to do is pick a key issue for big blocks of voters and say that you support it. This one was an easy one for Trump--it's the Republican stance that many, many voters hold as a deal-breaker in the voting booth. So, he simply changed his stance from pro-choice to pro-life to hold the vote of a certain percentage of the electorate captive.

Now, it's one thing when you have two politicians with long standing records supporting their respective views. In that situation, I can see taking both politicians at their word on their stated positions on the matter. We do not have that this election cycle. Let me say that again. We do not have two candidates with a long standing record of opposite views on the issue of pro life. What we have is one candidate who has a long standing record of being pro-choice (Clinton). We have another candidate who has a history of being pro-choice,  but a recent switch to pro-life (Trump). This candidate does not tout a pro-life agenda in his speeches or on the campaign trail---he's too busy tearing down women, minorities, and other whole segments of our population. This candidate has repeatedly lied about his positions WITHIN this election cycle. This is not even a candidate who, over the years, shifted in his positions. He is changing them on an almost daily basis in some cases. He denies that he holds positions, that he said things, that he supported things--that he clearly supported/said/articulated as a position. What's worse, he often falsely and strategically projects his previous often debunked or unpopular positions onto his opponent (e.g., the birther conspiracy) in an effort to discredit her.  I do not trust that Trump is pro-life in any sense.

Another indication of Trump's failure to demonstrate a respect for human dignity is his clear racism and sexism. This election has involved the unprecedented legitimization of racist and sexist rhetoric. Donald Trump has been endorsed and is actively supported by white supremacists, nationalists, Holocaust deniers  (e.g., David Duke of KKK fame).  He spews rhetoric that not only further marginalizes the already subordinated minority groups in this country, but incites fear, anger, hatred, and violence. He makes gross, sweeping generalizations that are unfounded and that spread fear and hate for anyone that is different in any way. His words are having an effect--because words do matter. Particularly the words of someone held up as a model for our youth--something that *should* go hand in hand for being a nominee for president of the United States of America. School teachers across this country are noticing and reporting a "Trump Effect" on the playground and in their classrooms--where kids are using racist talk to bully children of different ethnic background. Take a look at people that identify as Trump supporters on Twitter--the things that are being said would make any decent human being sick.

Donald Trump clearly sees women as nothing more than decorative objects that exist for his, and other men's, sexual pleasure and entertainment. That cannot be disputed. This has come out in so many sickening ways--from recordings of him talking about how he regularly sexually assaults women to women coming forward recounting stories of him engaging in the very behavior he referred to as "locker room talk".  Locker Room Talk. Let's stop for just a moment and think about this. Trump indicates that talking about sexually assaulting women is just "guy talk"--normal talk between guys when talking about women. For those that insist that words don't matter, I ask you to consider the following: His own son-a wealthy, privileged, powerful man-- said just the other day that women who can't tolerate sexual harassment should get out of the workplace and "go be kindergarten teachers".  This is a man who makes decisions about employment and promotions regularly. Go watch North Country -- a movie chronicling the experiences that led to the Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. class action sexual harassment lawsuit--and tell me that this doesn't matter. His campaign sends maps around of how the election would look if only men voted to describe momentum to donors, completely discounting the women of this country, and his followers began a twitter hashtag aimed at repealing the 19th Amendment.  If this does not convince you that this is dangerous--go watch the Hunting Ground. This powerful documentary talks about rape culture on college campuses. Words matter. Re-read the case of Brock Turner, Standford rapist. Words matter. These kinds of attitudes, shaped and expressed in words, create a culture permissive of racism, rape, and harassment. I shudder to think what the implications would be should Trump become the next president of the United States.

This all sounds pretty bad, I know. Sadly, it doesn't stop here. It only gets worse. Because this candidate has begun to amp up his talk undermining the very foundation of our democracy. He has begun calling into question the legitimacy of our voting process--setting the stage for an excuse for his overblown ego if/when he loses this election. Again--in a move that clearly demonstrates that his only interest is in his own self-preservation, he is suggesting that our democracy is "fake".  He has encouraged his supporters to watch polls--and engage in voter intimidation. His supporters have taken this to mean that they should single out anyone who doesn't look like they speak "American" and stand over them in the polling booth. He is encouraging racial profiling and voter intimidation. He has, over the course of his campaign, repeatedly suggested to his supporters that they could exercise their second amendment rights and take action against Clinton should she win--and his supporters are calling for bloodshed and talking assassination. These kinds of sentiments are now beginning to color his campaign and supporters.His supporters are calling for a revolution in the event of a Clinton win. Mike Pence has said just this morning that he and and Trump would accept the outcome of this election should Clinton win--but why should we believe what Mike Pence says about what Donald Trump will do? The two of them don't agree or even talk about their position on anything. Pence has one plan to deal with Syria--Trump disagrees. Pence accepts that Russia is actively attempting to influence this election--Trump rejects this idea. Why would what Pence say about Trump's plans at the end of this election cycle mean anything at this point?

We can also talk about Trump's claim that the media is rigged to favor Clinton. CNN is rigged. Fox News is rigged. MSNBC is rigged. Saturday Night Live is rigged. All the newspapers are rigged. All because they are reporting on the things he himself is saying. Now--clearly there is and always has been media bias--with different news outlets leaning to the right and to the left. This is why we have to take it upon ourselves to seek out unbiased and balanced information from a variety of news sources. Shame on us if we get all of our information from one news outlet--that's simply irresponsible. Trump, though, is suggesting that the media is one big, unified entity that is colluding to keep Trump down. Let's not forget all the free press that Trump got in 2015-2016--the very media coverage that propelled him into his position as the Republican Party's presidential nominee. Now he is driving the issues that they cover--he won't stop talking about them. He made sexual assault a key issue in this campaign--and now he's dealing with the fall out of that. This is not the media creating a problem for Trump. This is Trump and his inability to control himself creating a problem for Trump. He openly wonders why a junior senator can't change our nation's laws all by herself. His lack of experience and education about how our government works is what's causing the problems for Trump. His lack of knowledge about the breadth and depth of issues facing this nation is what's causing the problems for Trump.

Despite how troubling all of this is--perhaps the most troubling is what is becoming more and more clear each and every day of this election season: Trump's dictatorial tendencies. He has always attempted to control press access and the way in which he is portrayed in the press. He has begun ridiculing and restricting press access at his events--to the point that reporters are now showing up at his rallies with security. He has denied the public access to his tax returns--why? Don't we have a right to know who he's tied to and what allegiances-foreign and domestic-he has if he wants to earn the privilege of leading this country? He has threatened to jail his political opponent should he win--this is terrifying! What's he going to do when the next candidate challenges him--or, God forbid he get into office, when his term limit is up? He has threatened to sue news outlets that publish unfavorable stories--this is a pattern stretching all the way back to the beginning of his career.  He openly admires Vladmir Putin. Openly admires his leadership style and denies what top intelligence officials have told him about their conviction that Russia is attempting to influence this election. He defends Putin. Top officials in his campaign have been linked to Russia. This is really scary stuff. It is all the more reason why we need transparency with Trump--something we've NEVER had. He is secretive and denies us access to things pertinent to our decision-making process.

Finally, let's talk about transparency. Clinton's campaign has been laid open bare for us all to see. Not only her tax records, her record of public service, and now her illegally obtained emails. Lots going on there that should concern us--but at least we know what's there. We know virtually  NOTHING about Trump. We don't know where his money has come from, we don't know how much he has despite the fact that his primary claim to credibility is that he is "incredibly wealthy and incredibly successful". The little that we do know of him suggests that he is a liar, that he craves power, that he has contempt for anyone that is different from him, that he will ridicule, attempt to sue, and even jail anyone who opposes him, that he has almost no self-control, that he is vengeful, that he is disinclined to listen to those who advise him, that he has no respect for the commitments this country has made around the globe, that he lacks even a basic knowledge about how our government actually works, and that he will wield the power of the oval office to further his own interests and avenge his hurt ego. That's what we know about Mr. Trump.

This election is not like other elections. Most elections we think about our situation, we think about the candidates platforms and ideologies, and we try to consider how they will affect our own situation. We can't afford to think that way in this election. We just can't. We're talking about electing the leader of the free world. We're talking about electing someone to look out for the best interests of all of our citizens. We're talking about electing someone to protect the democratic foundation on which our society is built. This is about much, much more than improving our economic situation or understanding "the art of the deal". 

In the end, we all have to decide for ourselves. For some of us, there is a clear choice. I know that I feel as comfortable as I can feel that I am making a well-informed, thoroughly vetted, morally sound choice in doing what I can to keep Trump out of office. I know that each one of us is agonizing about our choices, each one of us cares deeply for our country, each one of us thinks our position is the best one. I know that some reading this will disagree with me to the core of their being--and I respect that. Because I respect this country and the principles on which it was founded. I respect our democracy and the power and responsibility that goes along with being a citizen. I hope you at least consider my point of view. Think it over. Then, if you want to sit down and talk about it--I'd love to do so. I think we need a whole lot more of that in this country. We should enjoy this process--not dread it. This election is important. In my mind, it becomes more important by the day.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Children Are People, Let's Parent Them That Way

As a parent over the years I've lamented more times than I can count the fact that children are not treated like people. People are human beings with an innate sense of human dignity, a unique past,  present, and future, who bear an innate responsibility for themselves and for others. Children are often positioned in our parenting culture not as unique human beings in this sense--rather, they are positioned as perpetually inadequate to manage their own lives and as projects that need to be perfected. In this way, children are seriously under-estimated as people, and it's impairing our ability to raise our young people to be resilient, responsible, happy adults.

When we first become parents, our children are like projects that we need to avoid messing up. As new parents, we have our newborn babies and spend inordinate amounts of time trying to absorb as much cultural wisdom from "experts" as we possibly can to ensure we are "doing it right".  Most of this wisdom is grounded in the idea that parenting is a science that we should be working to perfect. There are how to books, websites, magazines, talk shows, parenting groups, hotlines...the works...all aimed at helping us achieve some perfect parenting model that will produce responsible, self-confident, happy, successful children. This yields a set of parenting standards by which we often judge our own and others' parenting decisions. The problem here, of course, is that no two people are alike. No two adults, no two kids. No two families. A good parent recognizes the needs of each individual child in light of this and makes the best possible decision for their child(ren). This looks different across children, across and within families, across and within cultures. These normative standards can be quite pervasive--prescriptions about what a responsible parent will and won't allow for their children. Prescriptions about how a responsible parent will respond when faced with specific issues. These prescriptions comprise a set of social standards that are paramount to a "one size fits all" approach to parenting--effectively creating a parent social identity by which parents measure themselves and others. This is in direct conflict with the undeniable truth that children and parents are themselves unique individuals. Parents have a responsibility to make parenting decisions based on the unique needs of their individual children, yet they manage this responsibility in the context of a social identity that limits their ability to do so.

Another consequence of children being positioned as projects that we as parents need to perfect is the idea that mistakes are bad. Sometimes, in the name of "good parenting",  children are denied the basic human right to make--and, importantly, learn from--their own mistakes. These are the children who, as they enter school and develop relationships with peers, have parents who follow them into their junior high, high school, and even collegiate classrooms to argue for better grades or deadline extensions or excused absences. Children whose parents have made it a habit to take up arms to fix their children's quarrels, disagreements, discontents, blunders, and mistakes in their younger years find themselves with children who are more prone to mental health issues when faced with a world that expects them to navigate difficult circumstances, make their own decisions, and that doles out consequences when those decisions are poor. In essence, kids are being denied the ability to develop basic life coping skills--and it's making them miserable (http://qz.com/642351/is-the-way-we-parent-causing-a-mental-health-crisis-in-our-kids/). With college students' resiliency on the decline, (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201509/declining-student-resilience-serious-problem-colleges) this trend to view children as somehow in need of protection from making and learning from their own mistakes is one that deserves more in depth exploration. Children have to learn how to manage difficult times on their own. It's a real problem--and one that we see regularly at the collegiate level.

Sometimes this denial of a basic human experience--making and learning from mistakes--can contribute to even more severe consequences for these children and all with whom they interact as is highlighted by several notable cases. One example--Ethan Couch, AKA "Affluenza Teen" (http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/12/the-affluenza-defense-judge-rules-rich-kids-rich-kid-ness-makes-him-not-liable-for-deadly-drunk-driving-accident/)--stands out. The whole defense of this kid rested on the fact that his parents protected him from any and all consequences as he grew up and he was not held accountable for driving drunk and causing a fatal crash, forever changing the lives of 3 families.

It (should) go without saying that each child needs different kinds of guidance, parenting, support in order to grow and mature into self-confident, self-sufficient, self and other-aware, responsible members of society. It (should) go without saying that this support shifts over time as our children grow and develop as people. It (should) go without saying that the primary job we have as parents is to prepare our children to live their lives independent of us, and part of this process is allowing them space to fall down, fight their own battles, make mistakes, and move forward with our love and support. Our job is to let go--slowly at first--and guide them as young people who are growing, learning, and preparing to embrace all that life as an adult entails. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

To Nominate or To Not Nominate?

As I lay in bed fighting off a horrific cold, I've done what a lot of us have done as we've watched the cringe-worthy debates, rallies, primaries, and caucuses that define our political process. I've thrown my hands up in disbelief. But the process continues on--ramping up as we move ever closer to an eventual nomination. Let's just slow down for a minute here, folks. We just saw the documentary, The Hunting Ground, win an Oscar. This documentary highlights the fact that 16% of college women will be raped, and 88% of those women will not report it. We are all outraged by this. We all agree, I hope, that women are not sexual objects that are perpetually available for men to take whenever and however they wish. This, to my mind, is one of the reasons that the documentary The Hunting Ground, and others like it, are so powerful. Yet, we are seriously considering nominating a man for the office of President of the United States who systematically objectifies women, reducing them to their sexuality at every turn. When a women asserts a position of power in challenge to his own, he dismisses her as being menstrual. We have seen, in these debates, the candidates position their penises as topics worthy of discussion while they are interviewing with the American public for the highest office in the land. How am I, as a woman, supposed to feel valued in this process? How am I, as a mother to two daughters, supposed to feel confident that the next leader of our great nation will value my daughters as individuals? To teach them to value themselves as people and not sexual objects? How am I as a mother to my son, supposed to teach him that men and women alike should be valued for who they are, not their sexuality--when those that we are watching interview for the presidential bid devalue women and sexualize both men and women in this way?

I watched The Hunting Ground this weekend--a documentary that tells an incredibly disturbing story of rape on college campuses and how young women who are victims of this crime are systematically silenced and/or how their stories are co-opted by institutional interests. The documentary, however, is not only disturbing...it is hopeful and inspiring. These women were able to organize together and enact change. They fought a culture that first attempted to silence them and second, when their stories were articulated, effectively de-legitimated them. These women supported each other in the absence of institutional support--and reached out to other women experiencing the same kind of institutional and cultural violence instead of support to not only create space for these stories, but to organize together to ensure their stories were heard AND legitimated--and ultimately challenge the prevailing narrative of rape on college campuses. How can we be confident that our presidential candidates, who so willingly reduce women and men to their sexual organs on the debate stage--will take this epidemic seriously? The answer? We can't.

I've got news for each of you seeking the presidential nomination. Words matter. They shape and, unfortunately for you, reflect attitudes. Communication shapes reality--and the words that you choose on that debate stage or in that rally or in any other public forum matter a great deal. You are seeking to lead us. Your words reach a large audience--making them particularly powerful. With great power comes great responsibility. And quite frankly, in my book, none of you are worthy of that responsibility.

So, as we look around at each other in disbelief as this political process unfolds like a circus, let's not forget the incredibly serious implications of the circus we're witnessing. The rhetoric they are spewing has already been legitimated--and this only gets worse as the process continues toward the nomination. I went into this election season hopeful that I could evaluate differing perspectives and ideas on the issues that I see as most salient in moving us forward as a nation. Instead, I'm finding myself in the midst of an election season that threatens to move us backward and rather than looking hopefully to the future, I see us fighting to at least maintain what progress we've already achieved.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dissertation Dedication and Acknowledgments

This dissertation is dedicated to my husband and three children, without whom none of this would have been possible. My husband, Jason Castle, deserves special recognition. He has always believed in me and in us, and has been my rock throughout our married life, of which this particular endeavor is just one part. Jason has the most incredible ability to balance and prioritize all the important elements of life—and his incredible dedication to our family and his commitment to pursuing our dreams have been what has made this journey possible. Not only has he provided me with strength, unconditional love, and encouragement along the way, he has been instrumental in helping our family maintain a healthy balance between work and play. It was his willingness to take on so many of the day-to-day responsibilities and stress of family life that enabled me to strike a comfortable balance between scholar, wife, and mother—a balance that was necessary for me to successfully walk this path these last four years. He is the love of my life, an incredible husband and partner, and an even more amazing father to our three children. 

Our three children, Julia Castle, Tyler Castle, and Ava Castle, have also been instrumental in this accomplishment. Their patience, support, love, and pride in this pursuit has served as fuel for this journey. Each one of them has shown support in so many different ways, though a few things stand out as worth mentioning here. 

Julia has always taken an interest in the topics of my studies—asking questions, offering thoughts and insights, and setting her books up next to me so we could study together.  I have always valued our discussions about research and the impact it can have on improving our world. Most recently, her reflection on and appreciation of the fact that, after being diagnosed with SLE myself,  I centered my dissertation research on the experience of SLE in the hopes of improving the health and well-being of those struggling with SLE, served to confirm for me that our children see the real-world impact of educational pursuit. Her insights always amaze me and I look forward to seeing where her intellectual curiosity takes her in life and to many more thought-provoking and heartfelt discussions over the years. I am so blessed to be her mother. 

Tyler has been tenacious in his support of this goal—he has always been able to sense when the balance between family and scholarly pursuit felt overwhelming to me, stepping up with a well-timed “You can’t give up, Mom, I’m so proud of you!” His passion for the importance of this pursuit and his unwavering confidence in me have been more important to me than I can express. He is, without a doubt, an incredible son. I look forward both to supporting him wherever his commitment, tenacity, and passion take him and celebrating his many inevitable accomplishments.

Ava’s big heart and unconditional love have also been instrumental to this journey. Her patience with this process is unparalleled. After a full day of work and a full evening of reading and writing, Ava was always right there to sit and cuddle with me, make me laugh, tell me that she loves me, and make me feel so special even as I sat there exhausted from the demands of the day. She has always been able to help me re-focus my attention onto our family even during my most stressful times over these last four years. She is a true blessing, and I look forward to both many more cuddles and laughter and to seeing how she ends up putting her unique personality and talents together to make her dreams come true.

I am so proud of each member of our family and the way we all worked together to earn this Ph.D. I am so grateful for each of them and their unconditional love and support.  I hope and pray that the path our family has followed will inspire our children to find happiness both in the pursuit of their dreams and in the love, comfort, and support of their families.  
In reflecting on my educational experience that has culminated in earning a doctor of philosophy in Communication Studies, I have many people to thank in addition to my husband and children. First, my parents, Dick and Joan Ford, for the unconditional love and support they have surrounded me with throughout my life. They always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, challenge myself, and to always keep learning. It is because of them that I ever believed this was possible. It is through their loving guidance that I learned the importance of a strong work ethic, believing in myself, nurturing my faith, and serving others in all my endeavors. Though I could list a million different instances where these two amazing people showed me their love and support, I think the most poignant examples lie in their everyday sacrifices that made clear that they prioritized our family over everything else in life. Because of them, I always felt loved, valued, special, safe, secure, and comfortable in my own skin. This foundation that they provided me has enabled my every success and provided me with the ability to learn from every failure. I treasure them with my whole heart and attribute my academic success to them. 

I would also like to acknowledge my siblings, Tim Ford, Tom Ford, Jodi (Ford) Safris, and Anne (Ford) Wegner, whose love and support have always provided me with a sense of security and whose unique personalities and approaches to life have long served as a foundation for one of my most fundamental beliefs—that all perspectives are inherently valid and necessarily incomplete. This foundational personal belief has served as a guide for my personal life as well as for my academic career. Each one of them is amazing, and I am proud to be a member of this incredible family.

In addition to an incredible family, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge those individuals who have been instrumental in shaping my education. First, Dr. Kathleen Krone, who advised my master’s thesis and encouraged me to pursue my Ph.D. It was because of her that I believed I was well-suited to doctoral studies. Second, though many of my educators encouraged me to think beyond my own perspective, Dr. Phyllis Japp was instrumental in helping me to challenge myself to do so in every situation. Dr. Kristen Lucas, a friend and mentor, who recognized the need to push me out of stagnation and into the next step in my educational journey. Without her, I fear I may have never taken that leap into applying to the doctoral program. Dr. Jordan Soliz, who both encouraged me to work toward my Ph.D. and who has, on so many occasions, said just exactly the right thing to help me embrace the struggle inherent in the educational process. Dr. Dawn O. Braithwaite, who has been so supportive of my education over the years and who has helped me develop an incredible respect for the value of qualitative research. I also extend my gratitude to Dr. Jody Koenig Kellas, my doctoral advisor and mentor, who has gently yet consistently challenged me to interrogate what I think I know. Her commitment to my success, both as a scholar and in balancing my personal and academic life, has been key to my achievements. It is through her guidance and tutelage that I was able to come to terms with who I am as a scholar of communication studies—and that is a gift for which I will forever be grateful.

I would also like to thank the women who shared their SLE experiences with me in interviews or surveys. Their stories have shaped my own sense-making about SLE in powerful ways. I am so appreciative of their trust and candor, and look forward to building from what I’ve learned to improve how we live with and relate in SLE.  

In sum, I am grateful to have had the great fortune of knowing and developing relationships with a host of incredible people who have nurtured me in some way or another over the years. I am as humbled by as I am appreciative of these individuals and so many others who have been instrumental in shaping my life today. I hope and pray that I can have a similar influence on the lives of others over the next several years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Coming Full Circle

This evening, while braving an especially hot night at the ballpark watching my son play baseball, my almost 13 year old daughter asked me: "Mom? Is lupus genetic?" I thought for a minute, not really sure what to tell her...the fact that I have lupus does predispose her to it (and a multitude of other autoimmune diseases), but, it's not "genetic" per se. I settled on the truth, emphasizing that we've been in close discussion with her pediatrician when I was first diagnosed and were assured that there was no need to be concerned. I went on to explain that one of the best things about my diagnosis has been how much I've learned about autoimmune conditions and lupus so I know what things to watch for. She sat there for a minute and said "You know, I wasn't really even thinking about that part of it. I was really just thinking about how cool it's been to watch you. I mean, you got diagnosed with lupus right before you started working on your PhD. And now here you are four years later doing all this research to make life better for people who have lupus. It's really neat".

I said when I first started this blog that it would be a reflection on my journey as a parent in academia, simultaneously working to raise her children and earn a PhD. Back when all of this started, I knew that I would be changed...as a parent...and as an academic...by these two roles so central to my identity. Parenting has affected my academic and scholarly life in meaningful and important ways. Similarly, my scholarly life has shaped my approach to parenting.  What I hadn't realized at the time was just how symbiotic the relationship between these two roles would become.

You see, I began my PhD in Fall 2011. I was supposed to start in the Summer of 2011, but that spring I received some unexpected, potentially life-changing news. I had lupus. My body apparently didn't like itself, and had decided to wage war...on itself. As the news soaked in, I realized that this was not exactly like a common cold or the flu...this was a disease that could attack any and all of my organs...and was something that could dramatically limit me. So, rather than starting classes as planned, I spent the summer learning everything I could about "The Great Imitator". It turned out, I was fortunate. The disease was caught early, I was placed on preventative medication, and I just had to learn how to manage the occasional flares.

I have worked full time and taken classes part time since then, all the while continuing to learn more about this mysterious thing called lupus. It became clear to me early on that this was something I needed to explore more fully...and it became a research interest, eventually morphing into my dissertation topic. I knew that I wanted to make a difference for others battling lupus...those that perhaps did not have the benefit of an early diagnosis. I've heard so many stories and learned so much about the incredibly diverse ways that lupus can attack both a body and a spirit...and I wanted my research efforts to be centered on helping others impacted by the disease.

I've spent a good portion of my time pursuing my PhD scared to death that I was sacrificing too much as a parent. It's not something you do as an after-thought...this pursuit is all encompassing. Was I being selfish? What if my kids grew up feeling like my PhD was more important to me than they were? What if they somehow got the idea that I didn't have time to talk through their problems? What if...?

But tonight, Julia's comment at the top of the sixth inning laid all those fears to rest. Her insight helped me to see the value in what they've seen these last four years. She helped me to see that my academic and parenting lives have been working in concert this whole time...just as I suspected they would when I started this blog. In those times where I second-guessed myself, the kids were watching and learning. Those times when I was busy reading, writing, and researching, they weren't suffering. They were learning how to pursue a goal. They were seeing the importance of pursuing a passion. They were learning how to work hard to achieve...and to balance that with family. They were learning that true success lies in how well you serve others. They were learning that life is full of possibility.

What an incredible journey this has been for our family. I can't wait to see what the next chapter brings...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year's Reflection-Thank You, 2014.

This year our family spent New Year's Eve playing games and enjoying each other like we do every year. This year, as we played Clue and Pictionary and Othello, I was struck by just how much our family has changed over this past year. The kids are growing up--as much young adults as they are children--and that is, of course, both exciting and scary.

Every year we try to think about what major thing we learned from the year before and then talk over either resolutions or foci or something to strive for in the upcoming year. This year, we talked about humility as a lesson learned from 2014. In 2014, our family learned that we are not invincible--we can be touched by tragedy. We can be touched by stigma. We can be touched by difficulty and struggle in ways that are not easily managed or resolved.

We also learned about the value of humility. Through the struggle...through the difficulty...through the stigma--we were made vulnerable. It was through that vulnerability that we saw family connections emboldened. We saw (some) friendships strengthened. We saw our faith grow through this vulnerability. It was in this vulnerability that we were able to receive the compassion and love from others that we have always tried to bestow on those around us. Through this vulnerability we have the opportunity to become better people...more compassionate and mindful of others and their personal circumstances that we cannot possibly know or understand--a fact that should give us great pause when passing judgment. We defined ourselves more clearly as a family struggling to find its way in a world that often runs counter to the values we strive to embody.

Thank you, 2014. For your difficult, often painful lessons in humility and vulnerability that we will take with us into 2015 as we embrace what the new year brings. As I look to 2015, I am struck by another lesson of 2014--the importance of honoring and respecting personal history. Through the loss we've experienced in 2014, we realized that others touch us and we touch others in importantly unique ways. People come in and out of our lives--some stay for a while, others for a short time. Some are taken from us through death, others drift away through changing life circumstances. All shape us in some important ways. We are the legacy of our loved ones-past and present--and they are our legacy. We live on through the impact we have on others as they develop and grow. We live on through our role in shaping the personal histories of others that shape who they are and how they relate to the world. One of my goals in 2015 is to honor the legacy of others that shaped our family's personal history and by relating to others with full recognition of the role I play in shaping theirs.

Finally, as busy as our family has been balancing three active kids' schedules, raising three kids and helping them make sense of their lives and worlds as they grow and develop, both Jason and I working full time, and me working toward my doctorate 3/4 time, I am struck by the value of silence (thanks Father Snitley). In 2015, I will strive to create regular moments of silence for our family so that we can continue to grow and develop in our faith and engage in regular reflection together--hopefully creating space to honor ourselves and others as we are situated within our own personal histories.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Centered 2015

"Peace on earth, goodwill toward men". 

As I think about all the beautiful sentiments expressed in the songs we sing this time of year, in the greetings we meet each other with this time of year, and in the cards we send to one another this time of year, I am left a little bit empty inside. As I think about these sentiments that, I truly believe we all mean, by the way, I have to wonder about where they go once we move out of this beautiful time of year. Just as soon as we begin talking about New Year's resolutions, all these lofty sentiments about peace on earth and goodwill toward men are shoved to the back burner as our individual focus becomes getting more exercise, eating less, adopting a paleo diet, etc. It really is striking to move from commercials about taking care of the People's City Mission to joining a gym. How do we go from singing about taking care of our fellow man to focusing on numero uno in the New Year? We do it every single year--I am certainly guilty of it. At Christmas time we open our hearts and minds to the less fortunate, and, as we move into the New Year, we think of how we can better ourselves.

It is with no small sense of regret and shame that I admit that this Christmas season has, for me, been dominated by commercialism. I don't know if it is the kids' ages, the busy-ness of this last semester, how close Thanksgiving was to Christmas...or if it is what I fear it is-- a lack of spiritual centeredness on my part.

I remember as a young adult...maybe 22 or 23...I thought of myself as having a 'center'--and that the key to my personal growth and happiness was to live my life from that center. The way I saw things, life is, itself, a force that pulls us off-center, throws us curve-balls, guides us down certain paths that are dominated by one extreme or another--and as we immerse ourselves in developing one small part of who we are, we risk losing the other parts. Life provides opportunities and challenges in which we must make decisions. Those decisions can be made from our center--what I see as a place in which we are perfectly balanced in our priorities and ambitions and emphases, or they can be made from positions of imbalance, in which one part of who we are consistently takes priority over other parts. For example, when we are perfectly balanced, or operating from our center, we are making decisions that perfectly balance important elements of who we are...our identity as a parent, as a woman (or man) as a career person, as a spouse, as a daughter, as a sibling, as a friend. When we are un-centered, we make decisions that over-emphasize one part of who we are and, as a result, under-emphasize other parts of who we are.

Life, as we all know, brings change--its very essence is change. Every minute of every day, our circumstances shift. Our positioning changes. Who we are informs who we are becoming and this whole process is reflected in and shaped by the choices we make both in the moment and long term.I've always strived for (though, not always attained), a place of centeredness when making major life decisions--though, it is in the daily choices that I often fall short of this goal. The devil is in the details, I guess.

This line of thinking still guides me today, though, it has, in many ways, evolved--or, at least, that's how I choose to frame it. My center is not a place I wish to cling to as the world changes around me, it is a place I have to achieve...I have to actively achieve it...every single day. It takes effort...yet, when I achieve it, everything seems effortless. Everything is clear. Everything falls into place in ways I could never have predicted. This year...this Christmas...I failed to take the time to think from my center. It is from this centered place that spirituality simultaneously permeates and transcends all that I am and all that I do.

This is a mistake I won't continue to make--I plan to finish this Christmas season out and move into 2015 placing daily priority on achieving and acting from my center. I hope I can say at the end of 2015 that my daily choices and our major decisions were guided by my spiritual center. I guess only time will tell.