My office hours were about to end when Helen, a student from my interpersonal communication course the previous semester, arrived. She smiled and said, “Last term you talked in class about the field of interpersonal communication. I want to go into it and do research. How do I do this?”1
Now it’s not every day that a former student boldly declares a desire to become a communication scholar. But my initial skepticism regarding Helen’s query soon disappeared as she and I discussed the history behind her visit. As we talked, it became clear that her interest was genuine, and her motivation to study interpersonal communication deeply personal.
Helen Torres was born in Puerto Rico but spent her early childhood in Detroit in a neighborhood of Polish, Hispanic, Lebanese, and Euro-American families. The summer before Helen entered third grade, her family moved to a suburb that was almost entirely Euro-American, making them the only Hispanic family in the area. Helen’s mother was excited about the change, and she immediately volunteered to help out with activities at
Helen’s school, including fundraising and school parties.
Soon an incident occurred that changed Helen’s view of interpersonal communication forever. A parent called Helen’s mother and asked her to bake cupcakes for an upcoming school event. Helen’s mother, bilingual but predominantly a Spanish speaker, didn’t know what “cupcakes” were. Why would anyone in their right mind want a cup-size cake? she wondered.
Concluding that the caller must be confused, Helen’s mom baked a beautiful full-size cake and brought it to school. Seeing the cake, some of the kids teased Helen. “I shut them up,” Helen explains. “[I said] ‘My
mom can speak two languages. Can yours?’”
But her mother was mortified. She stopped volunteering for school functions, afraid of embarrassing her daughters. She also curtailed Helen’s and her sister’s interactions with schoolmates, worried that she couldn’t defend them if they got into conflicts with fellow students. “It was basically ‘Come right home, do your homework, and do your chores,’” recalls Helen.
The stigma associated with the cupcake incident quickly faded from Helen’s classmates’ memories. But for Helen’s mother it fostered a sense of alienation and insurmountable difference between her and the other mothers at Helen’s school. And for Helen, it inspired a fierce intellectual curiosity regarding people’s perception of difference and the importance of interpersonal communication in shaping relationships. A decade later, when Helen was a college student, this curiosity brought her to my office door.
In the years after our conversation, Helen earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication. As she put it, “Learning about interpersonal communication provided a different lens for looking at the world than what I previously had. It made me a more alert and savvy person in interpreting communication and allowed me to ask better questions and make better decisions. It also gave me the tools to critically analyze myself, others, and situations—I now can step back when I need to and reflect on my own messages, putting myself in others’ shoes.”
Today, Helen Iris Torres is executive director of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), an influential nonprofit organization committed to achieving political and economic equality for Latinas through leadership, advocacy, and education. But she still recalls the cupcake incident and its impact on her life. “It’s a silly story, but it illustrates a profound point: even small communication events can have big consequences. For me, this incident sparked a lifelong quest to better understand communication. And the knowledge I have gained has proven indispensable. In my daily dealings with politicians and other people in positions of power, it always comes down to interpersonal communication.”
In your essays for this course it is very important to use the terminology of communication science. Therefore, take time to learn the terms and their meanings in each chapter. In the face-to-face version of this course, various interactive techniques will be used to test your knowledge of the major terms. In the online version of the class you will review the terms independently. Make sure you use the terms referred to below in your essays.
Need for affection
Need for control
Need for identity
Need for inclusion
Need for power
Need for privacy
Need for self-efficacy
Content component of the message
Relationship component of the message
Scope of the need
Valence of the need
It is very important to remember the names of scholars who contributed to communication theory. Your essays will sound more professional if you make reference to the people mentioned in this brochure. In the face-to-face version of this course, and in the audio lectures that accompany the online version of this course the names of these scholars will be routinely used to refer to various concepts. Study the names of communication scholars and try to remember their contribution to the science.
|Bandler, Richard Bandura, Albert Buber, Martin Dernyatin, Maxim Fisher, Aubrey Frolov, Evgeny Grinder, John Maslow, Abraham||Rogers, Carl Schramm, Wilbur Schutz, Will Shannon, Claude Weaver, Warren Stewart, John Watzlawick, Paul|
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|IX. Issues in Interpersonal Communication|||||Focus on Culture|