Rutgers University has selected Associate Dean for Programs and Distinguished Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Dafna Lemish as a recipient of the 2019-2020 Rutgers Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Research award. According to the university, this award, one of eight annual university-wide faculty awards, “honors tenured faculty members who have made distinguished research contributions to their discipline and/or society at large.”
In an email to the Rutgers community regarding the 2019-2020 recipients of all eight awards, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi wrote, “The awards honor 34 outstanding members of the Rutgers community selected by their colleagues for exceptional contributions to teaching, research, or public service . . . For each award, the recipient receives a commemorative certificate and an honorarium.”
“It is very gratifying to see Rutgers honor Dafna’s scholarship in this way,” Aakhus said. “Dafna’s research on children and the media is making sustained and valuable contributions to understanding the lives of children across the globe and their well-being. She greatly deserves this recognition for her scholarship in defining and advancing this area of research and engagement for the world, the university, and SC&I.”
It is an honor, Lemish said, to be named this year’s recipient, and she credited the research environment at SC&I for contributing to her success. “At SC&I research is highly supported and encouraged. Our dean, Jonathan Potter, is an excellent scholar and a very successful one himself – he just passed 50,000 citations on Google Scholar which is incredible. The same is true of Associate Dean for Research Mark Aakhus, who is also a highly productive and networked researcher and intellectual thinker who keeps my scholarship stimulated. At SC&I we are in an environment where the administrators themselves are busy scholars who value scholarship and encourage each other and support each other in our work.”
The award also honors and acknowledges the importance of her colleague’s research in the Journalism and Media Studies Department, Lemish said. “It is so important for the school to have this kind of research recognized. Sometimes our research has been regarded as ‘soft science’ because it focuses on topics that have historically been marginalized, such as children and gender and racial inequality. To have these topics highlighted as important and be recognized, it’s valuable for the school in general and for these disciplines more specifically.”
Lemish’s research interests include children and media, gender representations and identity construction, qualitative methodologies, and feminist theory. She has published numerous books, refereed journal articles, and book chapters. An International Communication Association fellow, she is also the founding editor of the Journal of Children and Media. She is currently working on several new projects:
- With collaborators in Israel, Lemish is working on ongoing research on the role of grandparents as mediators of their grandchildren’s media use.
- With a collaborator in Israel, Lemish is working on a project examining the role of mobile phones in interaction between children and parents. “Parents are now very heavy users of mobile phones, and we are studying how this is affecting the quality of their interactions, for example, the impact on children’s safety and development. We are examining parents’ emotional availability in public places like restaurants, playgrounds, airport terminals, and laundromats, when they are immersed in their mobile phone bubbles, and how is this affecting their relationships with their children,” Lemish said.
- In an ongoing project with a colleague in London, Lemish is working on the representations of refugee children in children’s picture books, which is part of her interest in immigration and media.
- Migrant academics is the focus of an ongoing project. Lemish has interviewed 78 scholars who have emigrated from about 35 countries around the world to 10 countries in order to pursue their academic careers in the areas of media, communication, and journalism. Lemish said the interviews focus on identity and integration issues, as well as on the ways academic immigrants contribute to scholarship in unique ways and how they engage in changing the nature of higher education itself. “I’ve interviewed almost everyone in our school,” Lemish said. “We have a large number of immigrant faculty members including the dean and myself. I am currently analyzing this data set, which is fascinating, because I think immigrants bring unique value to higher education around the world, particularly in the U.S., and there is so much we can learn from their experiences and contributions.”
- Exploring the impacts of COVID-19, Lemish has joined her long-time colleague in Germany to conduct an online survey in 42 countries around the world (so far they have over 4,300 respondents) to discover how pre-adolescent children view changing roles of media in their lives during the pandemic, their knowledge of the crisis, the strategies and competencies being used to help them manage their stress, and other issues related to media and the crisis.
- For a different research project related to COVID-19, Lemish is studying the humor Israelis are creating and sharing in response to the pandemic. “During the crisis I have been in close contact with colleagues and family members in Israel using WhatsApp,” Lemish said, “and we started seeing a boom of humor, memes, jokes, created in Israel in response to the crisis. While there are similar jokes in the U.S. and around the world as well, Israeli humor is unique because of the historical challenges created by existential threats – there is an in-house, in-group type of humor, morbid and biting, about crisis situations in Israel. Humor that requires knowledge of the nuances of the Israeli culture in Hebrew to really get a sense of it. We were sending these jokes back and forth and then realized there is so much rich material here to learn about Israeli cultural values, gender and racial issues, patriotism and Jewish values in general. As a result, a colleague of mine and I are entertaining the idea of analyzing this humor more systematically.”
Recently, Lemish published an op-ed in the Star Ledger addressing the ways children are interacting with media during the quarantine necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, titled “TV, Video Games and other Media Could Actually Help Your Children While We’re all Staying at Home.”
Asked how she is able to conduct extensive research and publish so frequently in addition to her administrative work and teaching, Lemish said, “I am very privileged to be in a profession that blurs work and the rest of my life. Academic and administrative work is always interesting, new, refreshing, and stimulating. My work also involves a lot of interaction with people, which is the most important part of my job. The intellectual part of my life – constantly learning and growing – and my social life are highly connected. My best friends are my colleagues and my colleagues are my best friends. So, my social networks are also very related to my intellectual work. It’s hard for me to think of my research as work.”
In terms of being able to continue working as an administrator, and conducting research -- even expanding her research -- in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, Lemish said, “In my experience over my career, I have noticed that I become more productive during crisis situations. I emigrated to the United States from Israel. I was born and raised in a culture that was in constant war and a state of crisis, so I learned through the years to manage my work under very stressful circumstances. One of the things that I have developed is a way to manage things that are out of my control. You cannot control a war, a wave of suicide bombings, a security crisis, a sick child (I have three grown children with my supportive husband of 45 years who keeps me intellectually on the tips of my toes) or a pandemic, so my personal style in response to things out of my control is to become extremely productive and efficient in the areas I CAN control.”
Lemish said it is also an enormous benefit to her work at SC&I. “The environment at SC&I allows me to engage in scholarship as part of my job,” Lemish said. “Part of the definition of the role of the associate dean is to continue to engage in scholarship, so this work is not separated from my other responsibilities. This environment, and the support from the dean and associate dean for research, are extremely valuable, and it’s very helpful for me to know that my research work is valued in the school. The school itself is a highly productive research environment. I am constantly amazed and totally in awe of the wonderful, impressive research work of my colleagues that I see when I read cases for promotion or reviews, or hear about awards and fellowships, and grants. In this environment in SC&I of high productivity and such a high-level of excellence in research, you can’t fall behind! It’s stimulating, encouraging, and supporting – it’s great to be in such an intellectually fruitful environment.”