Rachel Berson, KLN '20, is leaving Klein College of Media and Communication with a bang. After building a robust research portfolio during her undergraduate career as a communication studies major pursuing a Major of Distinction (MOD), her crowning experience came on December 9, 2020 when she presented her thesis, "World Pride's Rhetorical Vision," over Zoom. Now, the academic powerhouse is looking ahead to law school and a career in advocacy, thanks to a full-tuition scholarship from Temple Unviersity's Beasley School of Law.
Berson fell in love with research and — more specifically — with political conflict in Communication Studies Chair Scott Gratson's Rhetorical Criticism class. There, she dipped her toes into the world of research and knew immediately that she wanted to continue pursuing these interests. After submitting a paper on political violence and the dramatization of Nazi-punching, Gratson encouraged Berson to submit her work to the DePauw Undergraduate Honors Conference in Communication and Theatre and eventually to the National Communciation Association (NCA). Berson said that though she didn't expect to be accepted to either, she was thrilled to find out she had actually been accepted to both, even having two papers accepted to the NCA conference.
In Fall 2018, Berson interned with World Pride, where she began developing an interest in LGBTQ Pride as a research topic. Though she wanted to cover the history of pride for a MOD thesis and something else for a Diamond Research Project, she quickly realized that this might be putting too much on her plate. Berson says that compared to the broader topic of pride's history, "By contrast, World Pride hasn't really been given the same degree of scholarly attention that I thought was warranted just because of the size and the scope of the event."
Berson quickly got to work on what would become the largest and longest project of her academic career (so far). To arrive at her final presentation, she went through dozens of drafts, sometimes deleting pages upon pages that were no longer useful because the research question, the data or some other factor had changed. "That's really part of the research process is that the first draft is not going to be perfect; the sixteenth draft is probably also not going to be perfect," she says.
In addition, there was the task of suiting her presentation to a virtual space, a task for which Berson had three months to prepare. Though she was hesitant at first because she had far more experience presenting in-person than online, she believes that this format actually worked in her favor.
"I was initially really nervous about doing it over a Zoom because it's really not the same as presenting in person," she said. "But the benefit of being able to do it online was I was able to bring a lot of friends and a lot of family members who otherwise wouldn't have been able to attend because of geographic considerations, and I think that ended up being really positive."
Being the first virtual thesis defense the Communication Studies Program had ever seen, Berson certainly set a high bar. Many attendees agree, including her professor and mentor Scott Gratson, who called her presentation a "magical experience."
"First, it was the first defense we have ever done virtually, and Rachel had attendance in record numbers, far greater than any defenses that I have seen before," Gratson said in an email. "Those in attendance asked provoking, critical questions, and Rachel handled them with her usual amazing ability and quick wit. Second, the thesis was a culmination of years of her work as a Comm Studies major, and it showed. Her research, scholarship, and dedication to the topic of Pride and its role were on full display."
But even before she put her defense presentation together, Berson had a major task to complete: her applications to law school. After carefully completing all of her applications early in the semester so she could focus on her research, Berson secured a full-tuition scholarship from Temple's Beasley School of Law, where she will likely attend. There, she will focus on advocacy, rhetoric and political violence: all interests and passions that were sparked right here at Klein. It is for that reason that Gratson, like many of her other professors and colleagues, have very little worry about Berson's future.
"I am certain that she will, as always, be brilliant," he said. "She has made us all very proud."