James Madison University – Media Arts and Design Professor Receives Fellowship to Study Portrayals of Black Women in Pop Culture


SUMMARY: Media arts and design professor Morgan Smalls received an Inclusion Imperative Visiting Faculty Fellowship from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) to study popular culture as a gateway to conversations about race, class, gender and power on television and in digital media spaces.

Morgan Smalls, professor of media arts and design at James Madison University, received an Inclusion Imperative Visiting Faculty scholarship from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Smalls will be spending the spring semester 2022 in residence at UMBC’s Dresher Center for the Humanities, where she will be conducting research on “HBO ‘Insecure’ and Black Women in Media.” This research will use popular culture as a gateway to conversations about race, class, gender and power in television and digital media spaces.

The rise of black female content creators like Shonda Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, Ava Duvernay and Issa Rae has contributed to greater visibility of black women behind and in front of the screen. Smalls seeks to examine whether and how shows like Rae’s “Insecure,” which focuses on two millennial African-American best friends and airs on HBO, challenge stereotypical portrayals of black women. In addition, she also plans to interrogate the use of digital spaces by black women to explore how they interpret black female characters, focusing on stereotypes of black women, friendships and relationships of black women. In addition to representation, this project deals with media convergence, the integration of technology and the use of social television in an evolving media landscape.

The Inclusion Imperative Fellowships, funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, are awarded to researchers committed to the diversity and advancement of historically under-represented groups in academia. In addition to a stipend, fellows have access to administrative and research development services at the Dresher Center and other UMBC facilities. They are also paired with a faculty collaborator from UMBC. During his residency at the Dresher Center, Smalls will continue his research project and participate in Imperative Inclusion programs, including workshops, seminars, conferences, teaching labs, and teaching network events.

Smalls holds a doctorate from Howard University in Communication, Culture and Media with a Certificate in Feminist Studies. She arrived at JMU in the fall of 2018 as a Future Faculty Preparation Fellow. Smalls is currently an Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Design, where she teaches courses on media communication and gender, race and culture in digital media.


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