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Chico State

Office Hours with Journalism and PR Department Chair and Professor Janell Bauer

Janell Bauer sits at her desk while writing in a notebook and looking at the camera. A pink book sits on the desk to her left.
Photos by Matt Bates / University Photographer

Before attending graduate school, Professor Janell Bauer would not have called herself a feminist. It was a word that evoked stereotypes and misunderstanding.

Yet, today, her teaching and research focused on gender equity and activism, and how universities teach these subjects, is where she finds her passion. She even co-authored the book Badass Feminist Politics: Exploring Radical Edges of Feminist Theory, Communication, and Activism with Sarah Blithe, a faculty member at University of Nevada, Reno.

“I definitely fell into that camp of people who didn’t totally understand feminism or the value and importance of naming it,” she said. “So, I started taking women’s studies classes (at University of Colorado at Boulder), and my research around feminist pedagogy started to build.”

Chair of the Journalism and Public Relations Department since fall 2022, Bauer said she integrates topics of equity and feminism across her courses to encourage her students to think about their own biases and what inclusivity looks like in communications.

“For me, it’s an exciting opportunity,” she said. “I get to work with students and to see them start to make connections and have these moments where they see opportunities for changes that they might make or ways that they might want to think differently.”

Bauer also is the faculty advisor of Tehama Group Communications, a student-run public relations agency at Chico State.

A photo of a plaque for the Distinguished Edited Book of the Year Award standing to the left of a pink book with black and white letters with the title "Badass Feminist Politics: Exploring Radical Edges of Feminist Theory, Communication, and Activism" that was co-written by Professor Janell Bauer.

Tell us about your book Badass Feminist Politics and what inspired it.

When we were in grad school and getting ready to go on the job market, my friend Sarah (co-author) already had kids and she was thinking about the ways prospective employers in academia might view her as a candidate. There would be people who believe you are going to call in sick and not be serious because you have kids or work won’t be your priority. It led us to talk about different potential discrimination points and how might we either share information or obscure information to make it more difficult for folks on the hiring side to engage in subconscious discriminatory practices. Another one of our grad student friends—she is a Black woman—looked over at us and said something along the lines of, ‘I can’t with this conversation. You are talking about trying to find a job in a very competitive industry and market. This is not the place for your feminist politics. You have to do what you need to do to get the job and then enact change from the inside.’ We had this great discussion about the different levels of privilege and positions that we came from. Those are conversations that Sarah and I continue to have regularly and that inspired the book project.

I’m also the executive director of the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender. It’s a national women’s studies organization. They have a journal and there’s a conference every year where faculty and students submit research for presentation. Sarah and I cohosted the 2018 conference, and the theme was “Nevertheless, We Persisted.” As people submitted papers around this theme of living feminist politics and what that looks like, that collection of work became the foundation for the book.

Bauer Fact #1: Among her most prized possessions on display in her office is a photograph of her mom, Georgia Blair Bauer, who was always her advocate; her 2017 Inspirational Professor Award for which students nominated her; and a poster that depicts button pins designed by her, Sarah, and Chico PR students.  

When and how did your interest in feminism and activism begin?

I would credit my mom and my many years in the Girl Scouts for providing a foundation. But it really got started in my PhD program and taking graduate courses in women’s studies and having a cohort of other graduate students who were more well-versed and passionate about modern gender, race, diversity, equity research, and activism. It created an opportunity for me to name the things I was interested in and defined the places where I thought I could grow.

Bauer Fact #2: Her current favorite book is “Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt, but “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a book she wishes she could read again for the first time.

How are you applying your interest and research in feminism and activism to your role at Chico State?

The first big area is in pedagogy and how I teach my classes. A lot of times content that relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion becomes isolated to classes about those topics. We have “Race and Diversity in Media” and “Gender and Sexuality in Media” classes—I’ve taught both of those—but it’s also important for me to think about how it’s essential in every aspect of what we teach about in public relations. So, in the PR writing class, we spend time talking about what inclusive writing looks like, and how you might think about the language that you’re using, and also how you come up with story ideas and how you approach the topics you cover. We explore some of those bigger questions that help students realize they might have their own unconscious biases that impact the types of questions they asked during interviews. We are thinking about how we integrate that across our curriculum in the department.

I also think about opportunities for mentoring in my classes. I’ve created opportunities for student learning assistants. Students who’ve taken my class and want to pursue graduate work in women’s studies or communication may come back for a second elective semester to gain in-depth research or class facilitation experiences. My goal is to mentor and work with students to develop their own research or activism.

Bauer Fact #3: The inspiration for the naming of her book is about reclaiming the word “Badass” to represent an unapologetic commitment to fight for gender equity in a way that is not about being polite or comfortable.

What do you want your students to take away from your class?

I want students to come away with the feeling that even though there are so many big things happening—look at what’s happening with policing, racial justice, gun violence, and conversations about critical race theory—and it can feel so overwhelming, that small actions matter. I think it can start to feel like, ‘I’m just one little person, right? I can’t do anything to change.’ I believe the little things matter and every conversation matters. And so, I might encourage my students to dive into hard topics with family members. Or just getting students to talk to their friends or roommates around, “Hey, this joke is problematic, because…” and give students some tools for how we can have hard conversations and invite people to think more about their perspective that isn’t designed to embarrass people and isn’t designed to put them on the defensive.

I want to give students the opportunity to see and realize that there are chances for them to make real and meaningful changes even if it feels small now.

Bauer Fact #4: Along with two colleagues, Bauer conducted a study—currently under review—on how PR students obtained jobs during the pandemic and the role of digital networking. They found that students who were active and had been on LinkedIn longer had more interviews and job offers.

Can you share something you have learned from your students?

I learn from my students all the time. In the last five years, students have shown amazing resilience. They continue to prioritize their learning and their relationships and their self and their well-being. In the PR writing class I taught last year, the students picked a project or organization and wrote PR materials. Almost every group created an organization that was somehow related to mental health or mental health connection for athletes. So, it’s been energizing to see students find ways to continue to cultivate the things they care about, to prioritize ways to build support systems so they can continue their education through all the disruptions and things we’ve seen these last couple of years. They keep going out and getting these great jobs and doing the things they want to do. They’re always such a source of inspiration.

Bauer has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English literature and a master’s degree in organizational communication from University of the Pacific. She also holds a PhD in organizational communication and a Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before she arrived at Chico State in 2014, she was an associate professor at James Madison University and spent six years working in public relations and marketing in Silicon Valley.