Faculty Researcher Spotlight: Jesse Fox

Jesse FoxAfter earning a BS in English and communication from the University of Kentucky, an MS in Communication from the University of Arizona, and a master’s and PhD in communication from Stanford University, Jesse Fox set her sights on an assistant professor position with the School of Communication at Ohio State.

Fox notes that she was drawn to her current role by the university’s stellar reputation for its research facilities and famous researchers.

“I was kind of in awe of all the faculty that were employed in one place; it was just like this giant bevy of geniuses,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that they actually wanted to interview me.”

Driving Fox’s research is an interest in communication technologies and media, with threads in virtual environment and virtual reality to evoke pro-social behavior. A main goal with her research is to find how we can use these environments to do good.

Fox also examines issues of sex and gender at the intersection of communication technologies. Recently, she has focus on the arena of online harassment, asking why in particular are women targeted for so much harassment online and what drives the behavior. Fox also looks at the harasser’s point of view to find out what is driving this anti-social behavior, believing that many times we overlook the fact that they also deserve our attention. 

“I hope that people are considering the scope of harassment,” she said. “I hope that people are learning that online harassment is real and it has real offline repercussions. People tend to live in this mythology that what happens online, stays online, or that online isn’t the “real world” and that’s not the case. We use online interaction all the time; we text our friends, we talk to them through social media. We know from our own experiences that those things can be hurtful and that it does matter what people will say online.” 

Fox believes that too often we only look at the good sides of technology, losing sight of how it can be destructive to our real world relationships. 

“I think one of the big takeaways is making sure that we’re considering how what we do online is a complement to our offline lives and vice versa. And that we should not be relying too heavily on online interactions to replace the materials of our relationships,” she said. 

Fox finds that getting the chance to sit down one-on-one with her participants and getting a better grasp on their experiences helps her know that her research may have a positive outcome or that she has made a difference in a person’s life. However, she finds challenges in the process.

Particularly with her virtual reality research, Fox notes the difficulty that lies in the everyday collection of data. Beyond debugging and repairing the research equipment, she says, funding remains a consistent challenge.

“I have been studying this stuff for a decade at this point, but we haven’t been able to get that far because we need that funding,” she said. “Peoples’ contributions to the university are helping us understand the way that these technologies work in society—these technologies that have a very real impact on your everyday existence.”

In spite of the challenges she faces, Fox notes that her work within the School of Communication has afforded her research a number benefits.

“A lot of my research is really influenced by my brilliant graduate students,” she said. “The opportunity to work with so many super smart, super sharp, super innovative thinkers at the graduate level has really shaped the direction that my research has taken me and has inspired me in a lot of new directions.”

Fox looks forward to furthering her research in the time to come, especially with virtual reality’s new seat at the table within mainstream technology research.

It’s going to be fun seeing the different ways people respond to this in a daily environment,” she said. “Are people going to just be using this for entertainment purposes or are they amenable to using it for other purposes like pro-social purposes or self-improvement? That will be really interesting to see how, from a consumer perspective, people are going to be doing that.”

Learn more about Jesse Fox. 

Written by student Annie Webster