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Faculty Research Spotlight

Vanessa de Macedo Higgins Joyce, Journalism and Mass Communication

Texas State Partners with Colombian Universities to Support Vulnerable Communities


Colombian exchange students at Latinitas headquarters in Austin
Colombian exchange students at Latinitas headquarters in Austin

“Our international project explored audiovisual language as a memory reconstruction process and how that language can be a tool for community identity and, ultimately, social cohesion.”

Dr. Vanessa Higgins Joyce
Dr. Vanessa Higgins Joyce

Colombia is currently experiencing high levels of political and social instability, much like many Latin American countries. In addition, Colombia’s recent past with armed conflict has left deep social divisions in the country, which were exacerbated in vulnerable populations of Bogotá and Pereira. In the United States, the Latinx community also faces vulnerabilities and challenges to social inclusion. In response to these issues, we put together an international collaboration among three universities – Texas State and two universities in Colombia (Areandina and UTadeo). Our project explores the use of media and audio-visual materials to foster social cohesion while respecting cultural differences.

While many research projects target causes of division and polarization, which certainly is important, very few consider how we can foster social cohesion or build consensus while embracing diversity. With an expertise in Latin America media, I research the role of digital media in consensus building. My focus is usually news media – how digital news media can bring diverse groups of society closer together in deliberation. Our international project explored audiovisual language as a memory reconstruction process and how that language can be a tool for community identity and, ultimately, social cohesion.

Latinitas mural by Daniel Alexander Perez Daza
Latinitas mural by Daniel Alexander Perez Daza

This collaborative project, Cine-clubs in Community: Video as a Tool of Knowledge Creation and Identity, was funded by the U.S. Department of State and the Colombian Colciencias, with the 100K Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. In addition, the project received generous internal financial support from the Wilson Latin American Research Funds.

Working with local communities of vulnerable populations in Pereira, Bogotá, and Austin, we created an academic and research mobility project with cinema clubs, short videos, and art for reflection and creation. While the project has been ongoing throughout the pandemic, with many activities online in fall 2020 and spring 2021, we were able to host Colombian students and professors here at Texas State in summer 2021, with support from the Office of International Affairs. Colombian students and faculty interacted with several Fine Arts and Communication faculty members, School of Journalism and Mass Communication students, local community leaders, and a Latinx non-profit organization called Latinitas, based in Austin. We worked with Latinitas, which aims to empower girls through media and technology, to support their Cine Chicas camp. In addition, the three communities each created a mural as a public reflection of empowerment, inclusion, and memory. One was created at Texas State and will be housed at Latinitas in Austin.

Colombian exchange student at Cine Chicas camp
Colombian exchange student at Cine Chicas camp

I was born in Brazil, where I worked with online news initiatives and public opinion research companies. I went to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue graduate studies focusing on media effects and emerging digital media in Latin America. In 2013, I joined Texas State, after a couple of years teaching at Southern Methodist University. My research lies in the intersection of consensus building, transnational media, and Latin American digital journalism. I’ve spent the last year gathering data and interviews with the support of an REP grant, and I’m also working on my first solo-authored book (under contract) entitled Digital Native-News in South America: Building Bridges with Diverse Audiences in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.  In addition, I have a co-authored book, set to be in print by October 2021, entitled From Telenovelas to Netflix: Transnational, Transverse Television in Latin America.