UNC Hussman Associate Professor Tori Ekstrand recently spoke with UNC Research about their “Rooted” series, which recognizes longtime members of the UNC community who have helped advance research while staying in the Carolinas. Read more below or at UNC Research.
Rooted by: Tori Smith Ekstrand
Carleigh Gabryel, UNC Research, 1 Nov 2022
Tori Smith Ekstrand has worked for UNC-Chapel Hill for more than 10 years in a variety of roles, most recently as the Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor of Graduate Education, in which she helps lead the Fellowship Royster of Fellows. She is an associate professor at the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism, where she teaches media law and the First Amendment.
What brought you to Carolina?
Intellectual climate and students. I have the most wonderful colleagues, and their work inspires me to conduct the kind of research that is forward-looking and serves the citizens of North Carolina.
I was a doctoral student at UNC-Chapel Hill in the late 1990s. I had a wonderful graduate student experience here and knew the excellence of our undergraduate and graduate programs at the Hussman School. After receiving my doctorate, I was hired as an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. In 2011, I was invited to apply for a position at Carolina and jumped at the opportunity.
How has your role here changed over the years?
In 2014, not long after returning to the Carolinas, I became co-director of the UNC Center for Media Law in Politics, an interdisciplinary research center jointly run by the UNC School of Law and Hussman. The center’s work ranges from legal and policy issues affecting traditional media organizations to the challenges posed by new communication technologies – including social media, the Internet and mobile technology, and the impact these have on governments, economies and cultural values. and social. in all the world.
As co-director of the centre, I was responsible for bringing together a diverse group of legal and communication scholars, media professionals and practicing lawyers. I worked with graduate students to conduct research on media law and policy and to organize public events—such as UNC’s annual First Amendment Day. I am also an associate faculty member at UNC’s Center for Information, Technology and Public Life (CITAP). This amazing group is led by several young researchers engaged in interdisciplinary work. Together, we research the intersection of politics and digital technology, studying technologies in the context of the people who design, use and govern them. Within this rapidly growing field, CITAP’s work is distinctive, bringing together multiple fields of study and methodological approaches with a Southern, public-institutional perspective and strong shared research values.
In 2021, I became the Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor of Graduate Education. The Royster Society of Fellows was established through the vision and generosity of Thomas and Caroline Royster in 1996. Through my distinguished professorship, I direct this premier doctoral recruiting fellowship at UNC-Chapel Hill and its annual conference with Carolina’s global strategic partners.
What has kept you in Carolina?
I think North Carolina is a bellwether for what’s going on in the country. Our campus contributes significantly to the conversations we are currently having about the state of democracy in the United States. Although these conversations in recent years have been challenging and often troubling, it seems to me that being at the nation’s oldest public university is definitely where those difficult conversations need to happen.
This state has always been at the center of important changes — from the start of the Regulator movement before the Revolutionary War to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and, more recently, the fight over same-sex marriage and the fraud debate. When you’re at UNC-Chapel Hill, you have a front-row seat to American history and a role in advancing conversations about the health of our democracy.
What contribution are you most proud of?
This past summer, I helped take seven Royster Fellows and several faculty, administrators and staff to the University of Tübingen in Germany, one of UNC-Chapel Hill’s global strategic partners, for our annual Royster Global conference. There we met with students and lecturers from the University of Tübingen and Kings College London. Royster Global aims to increase awareness and understanding of graduate education across international borders and helps prepare doctoral students—at UNC-Chapel Hill and beyond—for unprecedented global opportunities for research, networking, and employment.
The theme of the 2022 conference was “Disruption, digitization and disinformation: Communicating research after COVID-19”. The conference examined the opportunities and obstacles for communicating academic research in a post-COVID world. It addressed the issues facing young researchers in a time of accelerated digitization and created a space for discussion on how to respond to these new problems and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
I am particularly proud of our conversations about how disinformation campaigns have pressured democratic norms and what our response as academics can and should be. The conversation between disciplines and countries was dynamic and valuable. Students have made plans to continue those conversations in practice this year.
What’s a unique Carolina experience you’ve had?
I have been able to see what Carolina produces as a former student and now as a faculty member and administrator. I have watched my graduate school cohort at UNC-Chapel Hill become successful researchers and administrators at so many institutions across the US and the world. And now, watching the life cycle of a Carolina student turned scholar is an amazing transformation. I feel so lucky to be a part of that every day I’m here.