Date of Award

12-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Sally J. McMillan

Committee Members

Ronald E. Taylor, Eric Haley, Gregory Petty

Abstract

College student health scholarship indicates a stark contrast between health impediments college students identify and the health information their respective campuses provide; campus health promotions often lacking personal relevance for college students, and health programs that utilize control-based strategies to compel behavior change. College student health scholarship also indicates a heavily positivistic research slant with little consideration given to humanistic, student-centric approaches. The purpose of this dissertation was to explore college student perspectives about health messages to enhance college student health communications, thus bridging the disciplines of public relations and college student health. Findings revealed that female undergraduates are proactive and perceptive regarding health messages when they need information for a specific issue or concern. Findings also indicated that female undergraduates are initially dismissive but eventually receptive of health messages they involuntarily encounter. Findings additionally revealed that female undergraduates usually disregard health messages they encounter on campus. Findings also indicated that female undergraduates are differentially responsive to health messages from interpersonal sources. In addition, findings revealed that female undergraduates are grudgingly tolerant of societal health messages—especially those concerning unrealistic body standards. The researcher discovered dissertation findings through conducting in-depth interviews with 16 female undergraduates at a research-intensive university based in the southeastern United States. Specifically, she explored what health messages participants encountered, the sources of those health messages, and how participants responded to the health messages they encountered. The researcher applied thematic analysis to the interview transcripts to uncover female undergraduates‘ perspectives about health messages. She validated dissertation findings by clarifying bias through self-reflexivity, reaching information redundancy, and writing and reviewing self-memos. Dissertation findings revealed implications and insights for public relations and college student health scholarship and practice. Public relations scholars could extend dissertation findings by investigating how students decide which sources to trust. Public relations practitioners could develop message strategies to enhance campus coverage of issues that matter to students. College student health practitioners could create and consult with ―college student councils‖ before developing and disseminating health messages. Student health practitioners could train the individuals college students already trust as peer educators to facilitate healthful behaviors.

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