Nov 11, 2008

Saunders examines “Shades of Identity”

by Abby Armbruster

Daveta Saunders, associate director of the Center4ME, recently had a book published based on her masters degree she received from Liberty in 2007.

Saunders had no intention of publishing her thesis, “Shades of Identity: The Effects of African American Children Skin Complexions in Television Commercials on the Self-Perception of African American Children,” as a book until a German publishing company, VDM Verlag Publishing, approached her about turning her thesis into a book.

According to Saunders, her thesis focused on children’s television commercials and the children’s skin tone in the commercials. Saunders wanted to see how many African-American children appeared in the front of commercials or even in commercials at all.
“This is a topic that could be very controversial, but Daveta handled it most appropriately within the academic guidelines of her master’s thesis,” Doctor Terri Cornwell said. Cornwell, along with professors Cecil Kramer Jr. and Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, worked on Saunders’ thesis committee as advisors.

To conduct her research, Saunders watched 347 Saturday morning commercials on major networks, and then made focus groups of African-American children to see which character they would want to portray in each commercial. The children ranged from 6 to 10 years old and had three different levels of African-American skin complexion.

“I love the African-American culture,” Saunders said. “It’s important to know your own culture.”

As a Liberty student since 2000, Saunders said she would always pick an African-American topic or person for any report during school. Saunders said she did not mind going against the norm and researching more into the African-American culture.

“Daveta was a terrific student to work with,” Cornwell said.

Saunders said there was research from 50 years ago in the Lynchburg area, and she wanted to add onto that research with television, Internet and other modern media devices.

Saunders’ research was inspired by previous research such as the so-called “Baby Doll Test,” where children were given a Caucasian baby doll and an African-American baby doll, and each child had to decide which was prettier. Although these children were attempting to define beauty indirectly, Saunders still was not able to find a definition for beauty.

According to Saunders, her masters thesis took her two and a half months to write before it was posted on Liberty’s masters Web site, which she says is where the German publication company took notice. Saunders said she searched her name on Google and found that her thesis was posted on a blog as well.

Now with her Masters from Liberty in tow, Saunders is considering a doctorate degree in either teaching or communications. While deciding between those two focuses, Saunders is keeping busy with Center4ME and being a disc jockey on 90.9 The Light, under the persona “Little Preacher.” She has been a disc jockey since 2002, and hosts “The Takeover” Friday nights from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Saunders admits that Liberty University was not her first choice in colleges, before enrolling in 2000.

“Liberty was the last school I applied to,” she said.

The biggest factor that drew her to Liberty was financial aid. According to Saunders, her parents knew Liberty was a Christian school, and tricked her into applying for Liberty because of its’ spirituality factor. Saunders was unaware of the harsh rules of Liberty, particularly the dress code.

“I only had one skirt [when I arrived], and yes, I did have to go shopping,” she said.

Saunders also hopes to add research to “Shades of Identity,” and is currently evaluating college brochures for equal representations of different races.

Also, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) offered Saunders a shot at the annual Image Awards, and she is applying at the moment for the Award, in which she will know by January whether she received an award.

Shades of Identity is only available online, but according to the Liberty bookstore, if enough people show interest in the book, the bookstore will order copies to be sold on sight.


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