Dr. Rebecca de Souza

Rebecca de Souza
Professional Title


Ph.D., Department of Communication, Purdue University,  2007
M.A., Department of Communication, Purdue University, Indiana, 2003
B.A., Mount Carmel College, Bangalore University, Bangalore, India, 1999

Personal Statement

In July 2001, I made one of the most perilous moves of my life. I moved from Bangalore, India to West Lafayette, Indiana to go to graduate school at Purdue University. Bangalore, a city of eight million people, is known for its vibrancy, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, pubs, coffee shops, and beautiful weather. So West Lafayette, in the great American Midwest, was a completely new experience for me. I did not expect to stay in the U.S. after graduate school, but soon realized that only a rich industrialized nation like the U.S. could provide me with the resources and opportunities needed to fulfill my aspirations. So like many other immigrants, I sacrificed family, relationships, good food, and a life and culture that I knew, to start the unending process of assimilation.

I started work at the University of Minnesota, Duluth in Fall 2007. The city of Duluth, with all its contradictions, holds a special place in my heart. While there is no good food to be had here (by my accounts), in this “small big city”, I have met and become a part of several communities from whom I have learned a lot. There is a cultural and political vibrancy here that is energizing. And the lake is magnificent. Beautiful and full of irony, Lake Superior breathes life and joy into anyone who cares to look. When I am not teaching or working on my research, I enjoy “stay-at-home” days with my spouse Adam and my beautiful children Dominic and Franka- little pieces of my heart, who thanks to the marvel of genes, are a constant reminder of my family in India thousands of miles away.

Professional Statement

The overarching goal of my research is to understand the emancipatory potential of communication- to identify how the discipline of communication can be answerable to the practical problems of socio-political life, particularly issues of justice and inequity. My research over the last 15 years has revolved around the themes of health, medicine, food, marginality, and culture. It has followed the trials and uncertainties that individuals and communities encounter when they enter the health, medical, and social welfare systems. My work typically vacillates between studying individuals and communities in the margins on the one hand, and institutions of power and privilege on the other. The role of structures (including access to resources and policies) provide an important backdrop to my work. People cope with hunger, illness and other arduous life circumstances amid structural constraints, which prevent them from living the lives they want to live and becoming “fully human”. Amid these powerful constraints, my work traces how power and powerlessness, resilience and defeat maneuver in the lives of people in the margins- people marginalized by illness, poverty, patriarchy, racism, and structural racism. I typically use field-based research methods and interpretive analytical techniques to understand and evaluate contexts, experiences, and practices.

Courses Taught

Community Empowerment in South India (Short Term Study Abroad Program)>
COMM 3400 - Health Communication
COMM 3405 - Health Campaigns
COMM 3520 - Media Effects
COMM 4220 - Interpersonal Communication and Health Outcomes
COMM 5000 - Senior Seminar

Representative Research

de Souza, R. (2019). Feeding the Other: Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries, MIT Press.

LaCaille, L., Schultz, J., Goei, R., LaCaille, R., Dauner, K., de Souza, R., Versnik Nowak, A. & Regal, R. (2016). Go! Results from a quasi-experimental obesity prevention trial with hospital employees. BMC Public Health, 16, 171.

de Souza, R., (2015). “I’ve thought about this, trust me”: Understanding the values and assumptions that underlie prescription stimulant misuse among college students. International Journal of Communication, 9, 1187-1205.

de Souza, R., Dauner, K., Goei, R., LaCaille, L., Kotowski, M., Feenstra Schultz, J., LaCaille, R. & Versnik Nowak, A. (2014). An Evaluation of the Peer Helper Component of Go !: A Multimessage, Multi-“step” Obesity Prevention Intervention , American Journal of Health Education, 45(1), 12-19.

Pine, A. & de Souza, R. (2013). Including the voices of communities in food insecurity research: An empowerment-based agenda for food scholarship. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(4), 71–79.

de Souza, R. (2012). Theorizing the relationship between HIV/AIDS, biomedicine, and culture using an urban Indian setting as a case study, Communication Theory, 22, 163-186.

de Souza, R. (2010). Local Perspectives on empowerment and responsibility in the “New Public Health”, Health Communication, 26(1), 25-36.

Dr. de Souza's Curriculum Vita

Read my interview with Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger and The Reader (MIT Press)

Listen to my conversation with Melinda Hemmelgard from FoodSleuth Radio

Listen to my interview with Coral Lee from Heritage Radio Network 

Listen to my conversation with Dr. Lynn Harter (Ohio University) on the Defining Moments Podcast