The International Communication Association's (ICA) annual conference is among the most prestigious academic conventions in the world. And with a 39.4 percent acceptance rate, it is also among the rarest to join as a presenter. Despite the odds, Rita Damiron Tallaj — who is a student in the M.A. in Strategic Communication program within the College of Communication and the Arts — was selected to present at this year's conference when it comes to Washington, D.C., from May 24 to May 28.
At the conference, Damiron Tallaj presented a paper she wrote focusing on Afro-Latinx identity online, specifically analyzing how members of the Afro-Latinx community use social media to reshape people's perspectives of them. Additionally, her research examined how platforms like Facebook and Instagram influence the community's own identity as well, filling a crucial gap in the existing literature.
"There is little research out there on how this tool influences our identity — more specifically our racial and ethnic identity," Damiron Tallaj, who received an honorarium for research from the College that paid for her attendance fee, said. "The average U.S. adult spends 45 minutes of their day using social media. Are we questioning how this is changing our identity? In order to understand who we are, we must understand everything that influences us every day."
Damiron Tallaj's paper is similar to her master's project, which looks at how social networking sites help develop ethnic communities. And both topics evolved out of her interest in race, ethnicity and the terms connected to them that develop over generations. In fact, she finds it all so fascinating that she spends a lot of time on social media pages dedicated to the subjects, which prompted her thesis adviser Ruth Tsuria, Ph.D., to initially suggest developing her project around them.
Yet despite this passion, Damiron Tallaj's ICA presentation almost never happened. The graduate student explained that she would not have even applied to the ICA conference without the support of Tsuria, who urged her to submit her work and helped her through the application process. She is therefore grateful she has Tsuria as an adviser, calling her a "phenomenal" professor who made her acceptance into the convention possible.
"Dr. Tsuria has been beyond helpful throughout this process," Damiron Tallaj said. "She has not only changed the way in which I see academic research, but she has also encouraged me to believe in myself and overcome the challenges I face as an international student (originally from the Dominican Republic) writing in another language."
Tsuria is pleased that a student she has worked so closely with had the chance to share her research on an international stage. And she certainly believes Damiron Tallaj's "important and unique" research is worthy of the attention it will receive, pointing out that the Afro-Latinx community is a population that often gets overlooked. But as impactful as her student's paper will be, Tsuria knows Damiron Tallaj will benefit from attending the ICA conference. After all, she said, academic conventions are vital for anyone looking to thrive in academia.
"Conferences are important for students and scholars for feedback, networking and feeling the vibe of the discipline — what people are talking about, what ideas are currently trending, etc.," Tsuria, who has presented at more than 20 conferences, said. "For communication students they are especially beneficial because, even if they are not interested in academic life, their work in the field of communication will always demand high-level communication skills. What better way to practice those is there than presenting at a conference?"
Looking ahead, Tsuria believes Damiron Tallaj will go far as a scholar if she chooses to pursue an academic path. Describing her as "a very capable person" and "a good critical thinker," the professor said Damiron Tallaj would be a strong Ph.D. candidate. The work she is presenting also has the potential to get published, Tsuria shared, adding that she is willing to help her student through the editing and refining process so that can happen.
Damiron Tallaj's own plans include continuing her work creating digital content as a producer in addition to serving as an adjunct professor at Manhattan College. She also wants to apply to more conferences after moderating a panel at the Theorizing the Web conference in New York City.
She initially almost did not apply to present at ICA conference, and the odds of getting accepted were stacked against her, but the graduate student overcame all obstacles to earn a spot so many want but cannot have. And she does not take the achievement for granted.
"To have presented my work among some of the top scholars around the world is very fulfilling personally and professionally," Damiron Tallaj said. "It is eye-opening to know that being open to new experiences can open the door to new accomplishments."
The College of Communication and the Arts currently offers three graduate-level programs, including Museum Professions, Communication, and Public Relations. In addition, four dual-degree options, including three accelerated master's/B.A. programs and a dual M.A. degree with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations are offered.