Teacher-Scholar | Critical/Cultural Researcher I Civic Engager
Tasha R. Dunn is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at The University of Toledo. She strives to weave theory with practice in her teaching, scholarship, and service to foster positive social change.
As the first person in her family to attend college, Tasha has never taken a day in higher education for granted. She equally enjoys and is committed to effectively teaching about and being an active participant in the Communication discipline through her research and scholarship—hence her identification as a teacher-scholar.
Tasha’s academic journey began at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota where she found her niche in Communication after taking several classes within the discipline that enabled and encouraged her to apply the content she was learning to her everyday life. Through this process, Tasha was able to develop stronger interpersonal relationships with friends and family as well as increase her ability to critique and produce media, among other benefits. Consequently, Tasha found the Communication discipline to be not only applicable, but immensely valuable. So, after graduating with her B.A. in Communication Studies and Theatre Arts from Concordia College, Tasha went on to earn an M.A. in Communication Studies from Eastern Illinois University (EIU). While at EIU, Tasha was employed as a Teaching Assistant, which established and solidified her passion for teaching. She also laid the foundation for her future critical/cultural research agenda by composing a thesis, “Taking out the Trash: Critiquing the Equipment for Living of White Trash Films,” which earned her the Top Thesis Award of Excellence for EIU's College of Arts and Humanities in 2010.
Upon graduating from EIU, Tasha worked as the Promotions and Marketing Director for Five Star Media Group, a cluster of radio stations based out of Clarksville, Tennessee. Being employed in the media industry was highly rewarding because Tasha was able to apply what she learned in her B.A. and M.A. programs to daily tasks such as developing sales promotions, planning events, designing website ads, writing and producing commercials, as well as voice-tracking. After two years of working in radio, Tasha moved on to pursue her Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the University of South Florida where she was awarded a Graduate Teaching Assistantship that enabled her to teach two classes per semester. She earned her degree in 2015 and has been in higher education ever since.
Tasha’s rich experience applying her acquired knowledge of Communication to her first career in radio both established and reinforced her emphasis on active learning as a teacher. Students who take her classes are challenged to apply the knowledge they gain through various hands-on activities that wed theory to practice and thus prepare them for various communication situations and careers. Tasha’s pragmatic approach to teaching has consistently resulted in exceptional teaching evaluations. Additionally, in 2014, she received the Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of South Florida. She was the only Graduate Teaching Assistant in the College of Arts and Humanities to receive this honor. Through Tasha’s experiences within and outside of the classroom, she is qualified to and has taught a broad range of Communication courses, such as: Media and Society, Interpersonal Communication, Communication Theory, Gender Communication, Introduction to Communication, Public Speaking, Critical Media Studies, Introduction to New Media, Media Research, Dating in the Digital Age, and more.
As a teacher-scholar, Tasha approaches each of her classes with a commitment to provide high-quality education that is informed, inspired, and enriched by her research and scholarship. Tasha firmly believes teachers should never stop learning and she ensures this by actively participating in the Communication discipline through maintaining an active research agenda and regularly attending academic conferences. Doing so allows her to keep her content current, exposes her to new ideas that stimulate her teaching and research, and reminds her of the learner’s experience so she can empathize and better connect with her students. Through following the teacher-scholar model, Tasha is given room to grow in her profession, which she appreciates and wholeheartedly embraces.
Tasha’s research agenda is guided by the critical/cultural studies tradition as well as ethnographic and autoethnographic ideas and approaches. She often merges these two areas by using either ethnography or autoethnography to provide analyses and critiques of various understudied cultural phenomena (e.g., “white trash,” class performativity, relational maintenance and dissolution on social media, etc.).
The bulk of Tasha’s most recent research analyzes the relationship between media and life—a relationship that has grown stronger and more complex as media becomes increasingly ubiquitous. Because she is guided by the critical/cultural studies tradition, Tasha recognizes media as a product of and window into culture—something that can be observed to understand the workings of a larger cultural context. In short, whether she is studying mediated representations and how people respond to them or how people in romantic relationships negotiate the presence of social media, she is studying culture—hence her identity as a critical/cultural researcher.
Tasha’s critical/cultural research is featured in a variety of scholarly publications. Most important to date is her award-winning book, Talking White Trash: Mediated Representations and Lived Experiences of White Working-Class People, which was published by Routledge in 2019 and has since been reviewed in two different scholarly journals (click here and here to access each review). In this book, Tasha employs a multi-method approach to analyze how popular media articulates certain ideas about white working-class people and how those who identify as members of this population—including herself—negotiate such articulations. Talking White Trash provides alternative stories about the white working-class population that are rarely, if ever, found in popular media. These stories talk to, talk with, and talk back to mediated representations and dominant cultural ideas about this population. Given the unique multi-method approach and stories that are featured in Talking White Trash, Tasha received the 2019 H.L. “Bud” Goodall, Jr. and Nick Trujillo “It’s a Way of Life” Best Book Award. This international award honors a published narrative ethnography that “exemplifies excellence in storytelling informed by scholarship and intended for both scholarly and public audiences” (Bud’s words).
Among Tasha’s related publications is her chapter, “Digging In: White Trash, Trailer Trash, and the (im)Mobility of Whiteness” in the book, Interrogating the Communicative Power of Whiteness (Routledge, 2019). In this chapter, Tasha focuses on the discursive strategies used in media to maintain and destabilize white identity and privilege. Tasha also has an article in the International Review of Qualitative Research, “Divorce in the Digital Age: A Cyber Autoethnographic Exploration,” about the complexity of navigating relational dissolution in the context of Facebook. Additionally, Tasha recently published an article with a colleague in The Journal of Social Media in Society. This article, titled “‘Oh Snap!’: A Mixed-Methods Approach to Analyzing the Dark Side of Snapchat,” merges quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the dark side of Snapchat, paying close attention to how the behaviors and ephemeral content on this platform may be detrimental for young adults’ mental health and the quality of their romantic relationships.
While the focus of the aforementioned pieces is arguably different, they are all concerned with the connection between media and life—a cultural phenomenon Tasha plans to continue studying. She is currently pursuing additional qualitative research about the negotiation and communication of relational formation, maintenance, and dissolution on and through various social media platforms. This research agenda, situated at the nexus of Interpersonal Communication and Media Studies, is motivated by the following: Tasha’s lived experiences, her background researching and teaching about dating in the digital age, as well as the recognition that our lives and thus our relationships have become inextricably tethered to digital technology—a shift that warrants deeper, qualitative understanding to help people better navigate their relational histories and futures online so they can lead more fulfilling digital and material lives.
No matter what Tasha chooses to study in the future, she will always strive in her research to make accessible different ways of knowing that can raise consciousness about understudied cultural phenomena and consequently foster positive social change for those who are impacted by and/or connected to such phenomena.
Tasha’s commitment to teaching and research matches her commitment to civic engagement. Ever since she was young, she has valued and worked hard to make a positive difference in the various communities of which she has been a part. She has spent countless hours mentoring youth, serving and advocating for those who are homeless, participating in community theatre, fostering relationships with various community partners, and maintaining an active presence in the discipline of Communication as well as the departments and universities with which she has been affiliated. She constantly strives to serve in ways that foster positive social change within the classroom and the discipline of Communication at large, as well as beyond the academy.
For example, while attending the University of South Florida (USF), Tasha was an advocate for the local homeless community by regularly volunteering for groups such as Project Downtown—the University’s premier homeless support organization. She also worked closely with the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) to implement a service-learning component in one of the courses she taught: Communication, Culture, and Community. Additionally, the CLCE chose her to serve as a faculty advisor for three consecutive alternative spring break trips dedicated to service learning. During these trips she traveled with a small group of undergraduate students to learn about and assist with issues related to poverty and homelessness in three major U.S. cities. The information she gleaned from these experiences was informed and inspired by her research on poverty and social class and it greatly contributed to work such as, “Accomplishing Place in Public Space: Autoethnographic Accounts of Homelessness” a co-authored piece in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.
During her first academic appointment at Augustana University, Tasha created and promoted a now thriving Media Studies major and minor within the Department of Communication Studies. She was also a member of several committees, including the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which strives to support diversity and bolster inclusivity on campus. In her former position at UNK, she served as faculty advisor of the AdPR Club—a pre-professional student organization that seeks to prepare students for careers in Advertising, Public Relations, and related industries. During her first year as the advisor, she worked with student members to re-brand the club, revise the club’s constitution to secure good-standing with the university, raise funds, and build much-needed connections with regional advertising and public relations professionals, teachers, and agencies. In addition to advising the AdPR Club, she was a member of the department’s Recruitment and Retention Committee, which planned community-building events and designed promotional materials that are now being distributed to prospective students.
While at UNK, Tasha also acted as co-chair for the College of Arts and Sciences Travel Committee, which allocates travel funds for faculty members in the college. Additionally, she was a member of the Women’s, Gender, and Ethnic Studies Advisory committee. Through her work on this committee, she was able to get a course, Gender and Communication, accepted as an elective in the Women and Gender Studies minor with the intention of fostering a burgeoning interdisciplinary connection.
Currently, at the University of Toledo, Tasha is a departmental representative for the College of Arts and Letters Council which is in charge of overseeing the curriculum, policies, and governance of the College from the faculty perspective. Tasha is also a member of the Department of Communication's Curriculum Committee, which is engaged in a student-centered, data-driven process to enhance the department's curriculum. Her background in curriculum development has proven useful thus far in this process. Apart from her regular service duties, Tasha recently participated as a speaker in the College of Arts and Letters "Brownbag Series on Racial Justice" which was developed to provide knowledge and foster constructive dialogue about racial justice. Her presentation, titled "White Privilege in Media" focused on how media reinforces and obscures system racism through the strategic privileging of whiteness and what can be done to remedy this problematic situation.
Outside of departmental and university involvement, much of Tasha’s civic engagement has been geared towards the Communication discipline. For example, she is currently Program Planner for the Media Studies Interest Group of the Central States Communication Association (CSCA) and she has regularly served as a reviewer, respondent, and chair for the Ethnography Division of the National Communication Association (NCA). She has also been an ad-hoc reviewer for many peer-reviewed Communication journals and is currently serving on the editorial board for Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies--a national, peer-reviewed, top-ranked journal in the field of Communication.
Tasha’s civic engagement extends beyond the academy as well. For example, she has mentored youth through Big Brothers Big Sisters and served as a guest speaker at different community youth events. When she lived in Nebrasks, she was also an active member of the Kearney Community Theatre where she directed a children’s play, served as props master for a children’s musical, and was the lead actress in a family musical.
Having recently moved to the Toledo, Ohio area, Tasha is beginning to establish herself in the local community. She was recently elected to serve as a Board Member and Social Media Manager for the Selene Center in Sylvania, Ohio, which strives to confront the issue of domestic violence in local rural and suburban communities while providing support and encouragement for victims of abuse. She would also like to continue fostering connections with local community partners who need volunteers so that she can find more opportunities to serve and also help her students to become more civically engaged. The opportunities for service abound and she is ready to contribute whenever and wherever she is needed to continue her lifelong commitment to civic engagement and help her local community thrive.
On a personal note, Tasha is married to her soulmate, Ben, and is a mother of two, an intersectional feminist, a dog person, a karaoke enthusiast, a choir nerd, a group fitness fanatic, and a jet setter having traveled to over 40 states and 14 countries. She has also lived in 8 states but considers Minnesota—where she spent a majority of her childhood and early adulthood—home. Go Vikings! She aspires to be a connoisseur of beverages (e.g., coffee and wine) and she loves deep conversations, witty banter, theatre, hiking, biking, Fall, Halloween, the color purple, the beach, cooking, open-mindedness, and board games. She de-stresses by baking, cleaning, and scheduling; and she deeply loves and is very loyal to her friends and family.