As students completed their language arts coursework at a local public school, their teacher, Jessica Zurcher, noticed a student’s computer screen was turned away. Walking over to the student, she saw him playing a bright, cartoonish video game full of zany characters and big cheese chunks. But right next to the game was an advertisement of a not-so-subtle picture of a naked woman right on the 11-year-old’s screen.
“So many kids are not actively looking for pornography, but sometimes it’s unavoidable,” explained Zurcher, who has a doctorate in communication and media studies. “I realized that without the right resources, the effects of unwanted exposure to pornography are detrimental to both children and parents.”
That experience stands out to Zurcher as a definitive turning point of her academic career. After focusing both her master’s and doctorate studies on helping families deal with pornography exposure, she now continues her research as a new assistant professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Communications.
As a public school teacher, Zurcher worked with students in Colorado and Utah schools, teaching language arts, film, communications and theatre. Working with students from diverse backgrounds helped her create a teaching style that connects with students in any situation.
“Professor Zurcher is a great teacher, having really benefited from teaching in public schools,” said professor Ed Carter, director of the School of Communications. “She has a learning style and teaching approach that make her relate really well to students. In fact, I recently went in to observe her introduction to communications class and thought to myself, ‘wow, I could learn a thing or two in taking her class’ even though I’ve been in communications for over 20 years!”
BYU drew Zurcher because of the unique opportunity to work with students both academically and spiritually. Her positive experience working with professors as a master’s student in the communications program inspired her to give back and help students.
“Being mentored by great professors who tied in the gospel to what we were learning and doing really meant a lot to me,” Zurcher said, who now teaches an introductory course to communications and a few graduate-level courses. “Doing the same for prospective students was really a motivating factor for me to come teach at BYU.”
As teaching has both an academic and spiritual focus at BYU, Zurcher plans to take advantage of being able to conduct research in the same way. Having already published an article in the Journal of Children and Media in April 2017, she hopes to publish two more pieces that stem from her doctorate dissertation on how parents communicate with their children about pornography.
Her research has already started to turn heads. She wrote an article this past August on the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Parenting for a Digital Future blog where she gives five insights on how parents can talk to their children about pornography. She also spoke at two conferences in San Diego and Hawaii this past spring and summer on the same subject.
Zurcher said she cannot wait to see what the future holds for her at BYU, even if that means she probably will not be catching students playing computer games with cheese chunks anymore.
Writer: Trevor Hawkins
Disclaimer: This article was produced as part of the COMMS 425 lab.