The winner of the 2022-2023 Distinguished Thesis Award is Iesha Alspaugh. Iesha graduated from Ball State with her Master’s in Communication Studies in 2021. Dr. Kristen McCauliff nominated Iesha, and she said this about her: “As a student in our courses and during the thesis process, Iesha exhibited a strong commitment to academic achievement, offered exceptional insight into discussions about rhetoric and media, and actively participated in the learning process. Iesha was the dream advisee and the result from her extraordinary efforts exemplifies the spirit and purpose of the Ball State University Distinguished Thesis Award.” Dr. Robin Phelps-Ward also nominated Iesha for this award, and she said this about her: “I have witnessed Iesha’s dedication, creativity, criticality, and passion for connecting the threads of Blackness, rhetoric, and media through my time serving on her committee, and believe Iesha represents the very best of Ball State and graduate education at the university.” Congratulations to Iesha on this well-deserved honor!

Here is a Q & A with Iesha.

What made you select your research topic?

I spend a lot of time consuming media and thinking about how media and texts move and persuade audiences and what they reveal about the values of shared cultures. I saw Matsouka’s (2019) Queen and Slim in theaters the month it was released with my roommate at the time. We left the theater crying and were silent the entire drive home. By the time we made it to our house we were still speechless. We were moved by the film but we also didn’t have words to describe what was happening as we were processing it—we tried multiple times. I was really curious about that. As a Black audience member, something about the film felt unsettling to me but I also knew that I found the film beautiful, especially aesthetically. The tension of those two things gave me space to question the film rhetorically. As I got into the research I brought in tweets from Black Twitter for two reasons. The first is more practical: I make sense of and process media a lot within the context of Black Twitter—it’s the rhetorical conversation that I want to be a part of. The second is that I think tweets about the movie reveal more about how the text is consumed, defined, and moved forward by Black audiences. There were some really good conversations going on then (and now) about Black film and tv; their construction and consumption.

Iesha Alspaugh

Please tell us about your research?

My research overall is often rhetorical, epistemological, cultural, and framed around race and gender. My undergraduate degree (also from Ball State University) is in Philosophy and Existential Narrative Psychology (Integrated Studies). I enjoy research when I have the opportunity to ask questions that reveal somewhat elusive and complex cultural threads.

What brought you to Ball State University?

I originally came to Ball State as a music major (undergraduate). I had been to the university a few times for a camp hosted there during the summers (Music for All). I loved the campus and it happened to be the best fit for me from the schools I applied to and auditioned at. I switched my major after my first semester, but I’m glad that I was originally a music major because I likely wouldn’t have gone to Ball State had I not been. Ultimately, I am so glad I went to Ball State—I am so proud to be a Cardinal which is why I returned for my graduate degree. I feel a lot of affection towards the Honors College, the Philosophy and Religious Studies department, and the Communication Studies department. The faculty I worked with in both of my undergraduate and graduate careers invested a lot in me as a scholar—I am grateful and feel very honored.

What are your future goals/career goals?

I currently live and work in Minneapolis and I don’t have any further career goals beyond being present in the work I currently do. Going through graduate school during the beginning of the pandemic in tandem with the conversations our country was having around race was challenging in many ways, so I’m glad to have space to rest and pursue research that is less tied to output and is more tied to questions that bring me joy. I continue to do a lot of personal research and I wouldn’t be surprised if that informs my future goals when I feel ready to form them. For now, I’m spending a lot of time learning from Black femme scholars.

Anything else you would like us to know?

I would like to thank my thesis committee for nominating me for this award! I loved working with Dr. Phelps-Ward, Dr. McCauliff, and Dr. Stamp. They have each been champions of my scholarly development which has had an immense impact on me as a scholar and as a person. I am especially thankful for Dr. McCauliff who served as my advisor as well as Dr. Denker who was the director of graduate studies during my time with the Communication Studies department. I know I have said many times that I am grateful, but I sincerely mean it. I am grateful to have had each of these incredible individuals mentor and work with me throughout my graduate career.