PhD student Joanne Farrall has won a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. The Hon. Kristy Duncan, Minister of Science, announced the award at a ceremony on October 3rd.
Farrall’s dissertation will explore how the social media posts of victims of violence get used in legal battles and political disputes. It focuses on the high profile case of Sandra Bland. In July 2015, Bland was pulled over by a Texas state trooper for allegedly failing to signal when she changed lanes. After refusing to leave her car, the trooper arrested Bland and charged her with assault. Unable to afford the $5,000 bail bondsman’s fee, she was thrown into county jail and later died in police custody, allegedly by suicide.
Following her death, Bland became closely linked to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and her Twitter posts, Facebook updates and Instagram activities were mobilized by different parties to influence public opinion about police brutality and the plight of African Americans.
“When highly publicized cases become causes célèbre, government officials and activists turn to the victim’s social media history to tell their own version of what happened,” says Farrall. “These victims have their stories taken up and used in ways that they could not have predicted and may not have agreed with, if they were alive to speak.”
Farrall’s supervisor, Sheryl Hamilton, notes the topical nature of Farrall’s research, explaining that it will help us better understand how digital media can “become fodder in and for broader controversies, often enabling a variety of social actors to ‘speak for’ victims or draw intimate conclusions” that can have important legal and ethical consequences.
“These practices raise important issues of self-representation, publicity culture, mediation, and privacy, among others,” Hamilton says.
Farrall says that the support offered by the School played a key role in the success of her application. “I am so grateful to my supervisor and all faculty in the Communication program for supporting my research,” she says. “This award provides me an incredible opportunity to focus all my energy on my dissertation without the pressure of worrying about finances.”
Hamilton describes Farrall as a model student who shows strong leadership and academic excellence. “Joanne is a true leader in our program – she mentors other students and raises important issues for all of us to consider as citizens on campus. She has already made, and continues to make, substantial contributions in how universities as workplaces, sites of learning, and social institutions are dealing with harassment and violence on their campuses.”
Josh Greenberg, Director of the School of Journalism and Communication agrees, and notes that Farrall is now the second PhD student in as many years to win a Vanier scholarship, “demonstrating the tremendous strength of our doctoral program and the quality of candidates it attracts.”
The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program aims to attract and retain world-class doctoral students by supporting those who demonstrate both leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies. Vanier Canada Graduate Scholars are each chosen on the basis of their scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering and health research. Recipients of the Vanier receive $50,000 per year from the Government of Canada for three years to fund their doctoral studies.
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