Psychology, Media Studies Converge For Ingram

Brett Ingram is finishing his first year as a professor in the communication department. “I absolutely love Boston College,” Ingram said. “Working with the kind of students you get here is a professor’s dream come true.” Not only has BC as a university exceeded his expectations, but the students he teaches have exceeded his expectations as well.

Ingram was born and raised in the very small and conservative town of Dover, Penn. Due to the constant abuse of power in local school systems, Ingram said he was unable to excel in his education. Dissatisfied with his teachers and classmates, he said that he “didn’t fit in very well in that environment.” Instead of succumbing to his surroundings, he decided to print out a list of the 100 best novels ever written and make an effort to read every single one of them. “I took control of my own education,” Ingram said, which he believes to have been good training for the life he now leads as a teacher.

While attending Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, Ingram studied abroad in England. This led to a new fascination for cultural studies. “As soon as I could, I got out of Pennsylvania,” Ingram said. When he returned from England, he moved to Boston and earned his master’s degree at Northeastern University in English and cinema studies. Soon after, he continued on to UMass Amherst where he earned his Ph.D. in communication.

His father was a psychologist who taught at the Pennsylvania State University Medical School. “I grew up in a house in which there were often human brains in the refrigerator,” Ingram said. Growing up in this type of household caused him to become particularly interested in the human brain and neuroscience. Likewise, his experiences at school within the Dover community led to his frustration with “close-mindedness and bigotry.” Both of these experiences were driving forces in his research, and he was soon able to converge the two.

Ultimately, Ingram wrote a dissertation called “Critical Rhetoric in the Age of Neuroscience” that explores how media representations influence people’s minds as well as their physical bodies. “The research question I relentlessly pursue is: ‘What are the barriers to changing people’s minds, especially when it comes to political attitudes?'” Ingram said. “There is a long tradition in communication of assuming that if we simply provide people with whom we disagree with ‘better,’ more reasonable ideas by way of media representations, they will naturally come around to our way of thinking. We feel frustrated when this doesn’t work. I’m interested in figuring out how media representations not only influence our ‘minds,’ but also reconfigure our brains, because we become physiologically addicted to the emotional rush they deliver. The challenge is to come up with effective rhetorical strategies of intervention.”

Ingram finds his one-year-old son a “constant source of fascination.” Similarly, he finds teaching to be enticing. He believes that the key to teaching is to always stay ahead of emerging ideas and posing new questions. He explained that this profession “can’t get old or mundane, and if it does, you’re doing it wrong.” Ingram’s course, Media and Cultural Studies, is currently cross-listed with women’s and gender studies, and he is eager to increase his involvement within this department. The department is collaborating with Ingram in hopes of having him develop a course on masculinity and the body, which he is excited to work on. The drive to increase his role at BC is evident. “I will stay at BC as long as BC would like to have me,” he said.

Even in his short time at BC, Ingram has noticedunique attributes of BC students. “Students are driven and intelligent, and I found that no matter how complex the idea, students will not let it beat them,” he said. “They will fight and talk and struggle until they understand it, and for someone like me who is trying to introduce students to some of the foundational philosophies that form the basis of Western thought, you need students like that.”

He did note that students at BC are exceptionally competitive with each other. Students tend to focus more on their test grades and GPAs than on their education in a larger sense, he said. While he feels this innate competitiveness can be motivational, he tries to emphasize that students have the rest of their lives to compete. “This isn’t a place to try and find answers, it’s the time to figure out what the right questions are,” he said. He encourages students to slow down and truly enjoy these four years, and to explore as many ideas and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.