Mark Orbe, professor of intercultural communication and diversity at Western Michigan University, discussed his book, “Communication Realities in a ‘Post-Racial’ Society: What the U.S. Public Really Thinks about President Obama,” Thursday evening in the Media and Communication building.
The Department of Communication Studies, the Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center, the Center for Undergraduate Research and the Women’s Studies Program sponsored the event, Amy Heuman, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, said.
“We’re in the communication studies discipline, so for us there is an interest in the communication research that he’s doing,” Heuman said. “But also, we thought it was very timely coming right after this debate because he has done these focus groups throughout the United States, so, it’s a wide range of folks that he has asked for what their perceptions are about the race relations in society, how possibly President Obama has impacted race relations in society.”
Orbe said the project is used to help his students understand what race looks like by providing contemporary scenarios and real-life examples.
“I went to 13 states trying to get as many diverse perspectives as I could based on race, ethnicity, based on age, based on gender, based on regionality, based on political affiliation,” he said.
Orbe said he conducted his research while on sabbatical from the university and had both time outside of teaching and funding to conduct his project.
He does qualitative work using interviews and focus groups and said he went in with no preconceived notions, letting the people decide what topics were to be discussed in the book.
“Ultimately, all of you probably come in with your own preconceived ideas about President Obama,” Orbe said. “What I want you to do is not only seek out those you are in agreement with, and shout ‘Amen,’ but what I want you to do is see how you might understand diverse perspectives because my goal this project was to learn about people’s perspectives.”
Joe Looney, a sophomore history major from Rowlett, said he came to the event for extra credit and to gain insight on who to vote for in the upcoming election.
The discussion Thursday was an interdisciplinary talk, Heuman said. Sociology, communication studies and women’s studies are learning about the value of focus groups. The goal of the talk was to have a dialogue and look at the information as a communicator, seeing how the different candidates could be described.
“I learned that across the board, whether people agree with his policies or not, generally, people think Obama is a good speaker and communicator,” Looney said. “I learned that there is a significant difference between post racial and post racist and how we can’t just be color blind, we have to embrace race and see it as peoples culture rather than something that keeps us apart.”
There will be a smaller group discussion from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Media and Communication building coinciding with a departmental cake cutting and reception commemorating the Communication Studies 87th anniversary and the department’s move to the Media and Communication building Friday, Heuman said. This talk will center around using focus groups as a method and why communication research matters.
“The talk was very insightful in terms of understanding diverse points of view and understanding the challenges of being the first black president and communication styles,” Charlotte Dunham, associate professor of sociology and the director of women’s studies, said. “Another really important insight from the talk was the importance of listening and listening to each other before we talk. Because, in order to truly engage people, we have to understand where they are coming from especially in a heated political campaign like there is today.”