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Health Communication in the Digital Age: Understanding Asian Hatred and Vaccination Influence

In a thought-provoking guest lecture on November 23, 2023, Dr. Jiun-Yi Tsai, Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University, delved into the pressing issues surrounding Asian hatred during the COVID-19 pandemic and the diverse information sources influencing vaccination decisions among different ethnic groups. The lecture, titled Leverage Health Communication for Well-being in the Digital Age, was part of the Communication Theory class offered by Dr. Tsung-Jen Shih at the International Master's Program in International Communication Studies (IMICS).

Dr. Tsai, whose research interests span risk and health communication, media processes and effects, and digital media analytics, commenced the talk with several interesting facts about her and a precise introduction to her research pursuits. She explained how communication operates in shaping attitudes and behaviors, providing attendees with a foundational understanding of its relevance to health communication. Dr. Tsai also fostered a welcoming atmosphere by asking the class participants to share their vaccination experiences and any challenges they faced in persuading their families to get vaccinated. The discussions unveiled a tapestry of diverse perspectives, shaped by the students’ varied backgrounds and experiences. This interactive session underscored the profound significance of vaccination issues within the realm of health communication research.

The speech came to its highlights as Dr. Tsai shared insights from three of her research projects. The first focused on keywords such as news consumption, racial attitudes, and social media coping, revealing the influence of political stigmatization during the COVID era, particularly when former President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, publicly referred to COVID as the “Chinese virus” on Twitter (now known as X). The second study explored the factors influencing vaccine hesitancy, particularly among minority groups. The results showed that Latinos were more likely than other ethnic groups to rely on their neighbors as trusted sources of information about vaccines. This suggests that the social environment in which individuals live plays a significant role in shaping their attitudes toward vaccination. Therefore, public health efforts should consider the diverse social contexts in which different communities are embedded. Dr. Tsai’s third research, focusing on the hospital’s health promotion on Twitter, employed surveys and digital media analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of American hospitals in addressing health concerns. Having a big smile on her face throughout this part, Dr. Tsai undoubtedly revealed her relentless enthusiasm for her career in academic research.

“Mediated communication is key to advancing the health and well-being of populations”, Dr. Tsai concluded, as the ending part of the speech, giving attendees a sense that communication is ultimately about human experiences. The following “Questions & Answers” session drew a perfect ending as one of the students, Samuel Li, posed a question about the value of pursuing a communication degree. Dr. Shih, the course instructor, acknowledged the significance of this question, deeming it “important to ask yet not necessarily requiring a definitive answer from professors.” This emphasizes the interactive and thought-generating aim of the course, wherein professors do not merely offer answers but cultivate discussion platforms to entertain various thoughts and possibilities.

The Communication Theory course is designed to enable students to explore the theoretical foundations of communications. Through the lens of media effects, Dr. Shih aims to equip students with a comprehensive understanding of communication theory, emphasizing the roles of mass media, digital media, and user-centric platforms. Hopefully, through this wonderful speech provided by Dr. Tsai, students will be able to refine their research methodology skills, foster proficiency in comparing and evaluating media theories based on both logical foundations and empirical evidence.

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