Meet Jessica Ghilani: Academic and Thoughtful Consumer

November 14, 2012

Jessica Ghilani understands that her career is personal and political. For a young, female, tenure-track professor, it can be challenging to establish boundaries while commanding respect in the classroom. This is magnified when you are young, female, and expecting a baby.

Ghilani is very conscious of herself and her surroundings. She recognizes that she is a role model by virtue of being a woman in academia who is balancing a passion for her field with her life off campus. Ghilani is a professor of communication at the University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, who specializes in consumer culture, military propaganda, and the history of advertising. Her research and courses allow her to merge her hobbies — she is a self-described political junkie and closet historian — with her academic interest in the evolution of American civic identity. In July 2012, the Journal of Communication Inquiry published her article “De Beers’ ‘Fighting Diamonds’: Recruiting American Consumers in World War II Advertising.” Between a rigorous writing and publication plan and teaching full time, Ghilani still finds time to explore advertising and consumer culture on a much more personal level.

Ghilani launched Consume or Consumedin 2008 as a personal exploration of fashion and today has sponsors and hundreds of followers. The blog is her way to indulge a more frivolous interest while being honest about the ideology of consumerism that tells people they need more things to be happy. She admits that at times she consumes and feels consumed. A recent series on her blog, Professional Pregnancy, explores the unique challenges and rewards of being pregnant in the public sphere. Teaching during her pregnancy has meant establishing — and re-establishing — boundaries with students in very new ways. “Pregnancy is an emotional idea,” she says. “It inscribes ‘maternal’ onto a person who is pregnant.” Personal conversations about health and family that never came up before are suddenly deemed fair game. For a professor who already feels pressure to prove her qualification to students, being so humanized in the classroom means having to navigate new student-teacher relationships.

Ghilani says that receiving the AAUW American Fellowship in 2009 was “the biggest feather in my cap.” She still remembers where she was when she read her name on the list of recipients. It was a moment of disbelief and deep validation. AAUW helped Ghilani to get comfortable with the idea that she had merit and potential as scholar, something she struggled with at the time. Ghilani believes many women, herself included, are socialized to have the impulse to diminish their accomplishments. She says the key is acknowledging that you didn’t accomplish things entirely on your own, but you must also embrace your role in your own success. With big changes coming and a brilliant career ahead of her, Ghilani is another AAUW alumna who deserves to take that moment herself and celebrate her success.

Do you have a story about the overlap between pregnancy and your professional life? Share it in the comments below!

Ghilani’s 2009–10 American Fellowship was sponsored by the Martha C. Enochs American Fellowship, the Carolyn Garfein American Fellowship, and the AAUW Reading (PA) Branch/S. Helen Ahrens American Fellowship.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

By:   |   November 14, 2012

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