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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Graduating Researcher’s Work Explores African-American Crowdsourcing Then and Now

By Noell Saunders

Tracey Vaughan, who will graduate May 6 with a Master of Art in lifespan and digital communication from Old Dominion University, is taking her research to new heights by making groundbreaking comparisons of a historic black travel guide called the "Negro Motorist Green Book" to the current use of social media in an effort to solve racial inequality in public dining facilities.

"The Negro Motorist Green Book" was published in 1936 by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green. The annual guidebook served as an informational tool to help black travelers find favorable destinations. During the Jim Crow era, an African-American's chances of facing danger and inconvenience while on the road were much greater. The Green Book covered most of North America.

Vaughan's research includes an examination of 400 restaurant complaints about discriminatory service in Virginia on Yelp, Facebook and Instagram that shows African-Americans today are using the social media platforms in much the same way. She recently presented her work at the Intercultural Communication Division at the Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) in Greenville, South Carolina.

"The Green Book was a "vintage Triple A guide." Social media is used the same way today like the Green Book. People still rate their experiences and comment if their service was good or not. The difference is now we are able to reach a bigger audience with just one Facebook share or one tweet," she said.

Vaughan, a Virginia native, developed a keen interest in social change when she was a child. She also experienced racism personally, which led her to want to solve more widespread issues.

"I want to go deeper and focus not only on race but also the disabled, differently-abled, religious people, the elderly and so on," Vaughan said. "We have laws in place for discrimination, yet we are still seeing videos go viral of unfair treatment."

Tom Socha, Vaughan's professor and director of Old Dominion University's Lifespan and Digital Communication Department, said she is an enthusiastic, forward-thinking, and highly insightful graduate.

"Her thesis on communication and everyday racism during public dining will make an important contribution to the future development of employee training programs seeking to improve cultural inclusiveness," he said.

Vaughan currently works as a graduate instructor teaching public speaking for Old Dominion University's Department of Communication and Theater. After graduation, Vaughan plans to expand her research by developing workshops and surveys for consumers and businesses. She also wants to pursue a doctorate degree. Vaughan hopes her research will aid in solving racial problems globally.

"Social media will continue to change the way we communicate," she said. "As communication and media scholars we are always trying to figure out if we (People) are influencing social media or is it influencing us?"

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