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Photo provided via China C. Billotte Verhoff

OU professor uses passions, research to create change

China Billotte Verhoff, an assistant professor of interpersonal communications, believes in the power good communication holds, as well as its benefit to creating an improved atmosphere that is supportive and open to everyone.

Originally from around Mansfield, Ohio, Billotte Verhoff was first unsure of what her college journey would look like. She attended Bowling Green State University for her undergraduate degrees where she was a double major in international studies and communication.

Billotte Verhoff said a pivotal point in her academic and professional career was in a communications class her senior year where she posed a question, and her professor suggested research as a response.

“I kind of fell in love with comms my final year,” Billotte Verhoff said.

As a first-generation student, Billotte Verhoff said she was uncertain of what she was going to do after college, as well as all the opportunities that were available. Thanks to a little encouragement and guidance from her advisor, Billotte Verhoff applied to graduate school and attended the University of New Mexico for health communication.

She said she loved her time in New Mexico, and she decided to apply to PhD programs across the country. Although she ended up at Purdue University due to connections she had made prior, Billotte Verhoff actually toured Ohio University and fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. 

“I agonized over the decision because I loved Athens,” she said. “Athens has a very specific community, and I loved that.”

Billotte Verhoff said OU was very reassuring, and the director of the program at the time said that she might have the opportunity to return to the campus one day as a member of faculty. 

To Billotte Verhoff’s delight, a job opened up in the School of Communications Studies after she graduated.

“I was like, ‘this is kismet, this is what it’s supposed to be,’” she said. “This is the number one place I want to be, and so I ended up in Athens.”

Billotte Verhoff said her position right now is well-suited to her passions and interests.

“My job is 40% teaching, 40% research, 20% service, which means I kind of split my time between mentoring and grad students and undergrads,” she said “I'm of a course coordinator for interpersonal comm class, and then I teach classes at the undergrad and grad level related to my areas – interpersonal and org – and get to run some recent projects I'm really into.”

Regarding her previous and current research, Billotte Verhoff said all her research has a running theme and purpose.

“All of my research tends to fall in areas of social support, self disclosure processes, especially for people with marginalized or stigmatized identities,” she said.

Her work ranges from studying performative allyship to discussing pregnancy in the workplace.

“We often talk about big moments in our life,” she said. “My work looks at some of those moments, but also kind of everyday conversations and how they can change our relationships.”

Billotte Verhoff said her motivation to examine what pregnancy looks like in the workplace was due to a friend of hers’ experience with how pregnancy demands the combination of personal and professional.

With her friend unsure of how to tell her boss, Billotte Verhoff engaged with a lot of research in order to aid her friend as well as learn more about the process herself. She came to the conclusion that a lot of the pressure of preparing and managing pregnancy falls on the person or the couple. Her research suggests that more work can be done on the corporate side to better prepare both parties on how to navigate employee pregnancy.

“Pregnancy in the workplace is stigmatized,” she said. “We always, at least in the U.S., have this understanding that pregnancy is something that's an interruption. It’s a disruption, it's something that you do to your employers, which is kind of a really problematic approach. So women are understandably kind of concerned heading into that.”

The way Billotte Verhoff went about conducting this research was collecting longitudinal data from women before they disclosed their pregnancy to their employers and then after.

“It really looked at this idea that how a supervisor responds, even more so than like the strategy or the specific way that you tell, has a huge impact,” she said.

Through all her research, Billotte Verhoff said she always surrounds her work around a single question.

“What are things that make hard conversations just a little bit easier, especially for people who are already in spaces that feel vulnerable?” she said. “That's the question I think that I ask myself most often.”

Additionally, she said her overall mission is promoting the importance of communication centered around respect, knowledge and kindness.

“I think about how I just want the world to suck a little bit less to make things a little bit easier,” Billotte Verhoff said.


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