Shawnika Hull

One question drives a journalism professor’s campaign to end homophobia: “Whose life could you change with love?”

Shawnika Hull, an instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, researches health communication and the effects of messages on attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

After arriving at UW in 2010, she collaborated with a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee called Diverse and Resilient, as well as the AIDS/HIV Program in Madison. These experiences inspired Hull to create the Acceptance Journey campaign, designed to target homophobia.

“We think homophobia is a really important link between your everyday social circumstances and whether or not you are experiencing poor mental health outcomes or poor physical health outcomes,” Hull said.

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a significant increase in HIV infection among young Black gay and bisexual men in Milwaukee, Hull said. Diverse and Resilient works to promote health and wellness in Milwaukee’s LGBTQ community, she said.

Ultimately, Hull said the goal of the campaign is to see a decrease in health issues, including HIV transmission, homelessness and mental illness.

The Acceptance Journeys project involves sharing personal stories of acceptance.

“These are people who are putting their lives front and center on story cards, on billboards, on newspapers, in bus stations, on the sides of buses … these are people’s lives, and they are saying that one of us here is lesbian, gay, transgendered or queer, and the other one of us here accepts that person for who they are,” Hull said.

The campaign has put a lot of effort into identifying possible mixed reactions from the published stories, Hull said. They have been careful about not putting people in harmful situations and the program evaluates how people are responding to the media, she said.

“One of my apprehensions was: Do we know how to do this without causing harm?” Hull said.

The campaign uses focus groups to start discussion and discover common beliefs and attitudes about the LGBTQ community to generate effective, persuasive “taglines” for the media, Hull said.

In the most recent round of focus groups, Hull said they discovered people put contingencies or boundaries on acceptance. In response, the campaign designed a tagline for the media focusing on the true meaning of acceptance.

The campaign has received funding from UW through 2016 and Hull said she would like to see it continue growing for as long as possible.

Hull’s personal favorite story is “Kingston and Ronnie,” which is about a boy who accepts his gay uncle for the person he is and becomes more aware of the judgment and discrimination against LBGTQ individuals.

Kingston decided to take a stand against homophobia, and Hull said she remembers the final powerful and insightful words that ended his acceptance story: “It’s a hurt person hurting another person.”

In 2004, Hull received her bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Arizona. She received her master of arts and Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hull’s work has been published in a number of journals, including the Journal of Sex Research, Health Psychology, Journal of Communication, Journal of Health Communication and Cancer Education.