PFx Student Testimonial - Kris Vera-Phillips

Learning how to teach the next generation of journalists


Please introduce yourself; where are you from?

I’m Kris Vera-Phillips, I’ve been living in Phoenix for the last couple of years - I moved from San Diego, where I worked as a senior producer for National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Where did you go to school before ASU? What was your major and minor?

University of California, Berkeley. Bachelor of Arts: American Studies

Northwestern University, Master of Science: Journalism

What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

During my academic and professional journeys, I have been surprised by people’s definitions of who is American and what is considered normal. I am blindsided by definitions that exclude people who look and sound like me. At Arizona State, I learned so much about other people’s perspectives on who is considered American and what “acting American” looks like through working on interviews and photovoice responses for the Arizona Youth Identity Project with Dr. Emir Estrada. I learned there are different interpretations of the American flag, which inspires emotions from patriotism to fear.

In my first newsroom job at the ABC station in Topeka, Kansas, an associate producer asked if my family celebrated Thanksgiving. I said they did and asked if her family celebrated the holiday. This question flustered my colleague, a self-proclaimed Kansas native. Since everyone was looking at her in the newsroom, she loudly announced, “I’m not being racist,” then explained that her boyfriend was Filipino, and his family didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Apparently, I was the second Filipino she could question on her survey. My co-worker’s questions reminded me of my parents’ lessons; back home in California, my parents told me about the challenges of living and working in this country as immigrants. They said I would face the same challenges before I opened my mouth and that people won’t see an American when they look at me. They taught me that I had to work harder to be accepted as an equal, and I can never stop proving myself.

What types of problems do you work on? Why do you think they are important?

I am a media scholar who looks at identity, power, and representation in media. My research has covered news media and popular culture. I looked at the erasure of Filipino nurses from Grey's Anatomy, questioned the precarious nature of equity and right to life for android officers in Star Trek, and investigated the use of journalistic objectivity in news media when it leaves behind BIPOC communities and marginalized voices.

I want to know what shapes the stories we see in news and media and how those stories contribute to the production of knowledge and the shared understanding of how the world works. I also want to know how this shared knowledge shapes our understanding of communities of color and marginalized voices, especially in spaces that privilege whiteness.

Why do you think these problems exist?

In the 1900s, Lippmann and Marz found that newspapers took on the identity of their wealthy, white male owners. These owners used their publications to advance their politics and agendas. Today, American mainstream news organizations that publish or broadcast in English - attempt to present a nonpartisan, race-neutral identity. These organizations use objectivity as evidence of their professional journalistic identity, free from bias and influence from outside sources.

An organization may face more systematic problems when they claim a race-neutral identity. Harris (2017) argued that organizations are blind to their biased knowledge when they claim a collective, race-neutral identity. According to Chakravartty et al. (2018), when organizations do not consider race and identity, colonial bias leads to the normalization of whiteness in the organization.

How did you become involved in this type of work, what inspired you?

I became involved in this work because of my experience in broadcast news for more than 14 years. I was the only Filipino American news producer in many newsrooms, and at my San Diego job, I was the only AAPI newsroom manager. From microaggressions to stories that misrepresented BIPOC people and marginalized communities, I watched newsrooms struggle with issues of identity and power.  

As a working journalist, I served on a diversity council to address these issues. I also mentored young journalists of color. As a media scholar, I am developing a language that can help newsrooms conceptualize these issues of identity, power, and representation. My research will also help dismantle institutional barriers to marginalized voices.

What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work/research?

I draw from scholarship in power, journalism norms, organizational communication, and decolonizing projects. I utilize qualitative methods of interviews and photovoice in my research.

What organizations or individuals outside of ASU do you interact/network with?

I serve as the Vice President of Journalism Programs for the Asian American Journalists Association.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in your field or who’re interested in going to grad school?

My advice to all students is to believe that their voices, stories, and life experiences matter. Where they come from and the communities they belong to help shape their work in academia and beyond. 

What are some of your long-term professional goals?

My long-term goal is to become a tenure-track professor in higher education who shows all students why their stories matter and why American news media should look, sound, and read in a relatable way.

Please tell us about your experience with PFx!

I enjoyed the PFx seminar! I connected with an incredible group of professors and students who inspired me to reconsider my approach to teaching and research. I resolve to make my classes more inclusive and empathetic to the next generation of journalists. The PFx seminar gave me a much-needed reality check on the academic hiring process. Even though I am still overwhelmed with the idea of entering the job market, PFx gave me the resources needed to survive.

Follow Kris: Twitter: @queenkv, Instagram: @queenkv, LinkedIn: krisv


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Marjani Hawkins