This past year I taught C201, our department’s course on race and the media. Even as graduate students, we’re really fortunate in being able to teach these foundational classes and create our own syllabi for them. The first C201 syllabus I developed, for Fall 2011, is below.
I was able to build on syllabi from colleagues who had taught the course in the past few years. I developed my goals for the class based on some of those syllabi. These included applying foundational concepts of American culture; incorporating American history, including histories of immigration and citizenship; and demonstrating the evolution of race in the media through civil rights movements. The screenings are relatively contemporary. What I tried to do was incorporate clips from older films and tv shows into the lectures, so that the students would have a comparison between older and newer media. Part of my purpose was to avoid having them get mired in the idea that stereotypes and racism only occur in old media, and also to get them to feel more engaged in the media currently around them. This relates to the reality TV project as well. I knew I wanted to incorporate reality TV, but there are so many shows that it was difficult to narrow the options for screenings. I designed the Reality Report project so that students could watch throughout the semester and then report on their findings to each other. A few of the students from the first semester chose the blog option to write their report. You can check out the results of those projects on FLAVOR OF LOVE, AMAZING RACE, and THE REAL WORLD. I adapted what I learned from Fall semester to tweak the Spring syllabus, which is below.
I switched up a few things for Spring 2012. One thing I did was to add a week on race and reality tv. From my experience Fall semester, I thought it would be helpful for students to have at least one week of reading and discussing reality tv before they got too deep in their group projects. While this may seem like a no-brainer, I have to admit that the students almost became too reliant on the reading and discussion from that week in their analyses, and lost sight of some other components of the class that the Fall semester students seemed to grasp better, so it was interesting to see the pros and the cons of its inclusion. Another important alteration was changing Skillbuilders to Reflections. I use Skillbuilders as flexible assignments that help the students to apply the information from the class. Sometimes these involve personal reflections on the screenings and readings, sometimes these involve submitting a thesis for a paper, sometimes they involve some kind of in-class group analysis activity. In the Fall semester though, I found about half-way through that I was having trouble with student resistance to the ideas around race, especially regarding the roles of whiteness and hegemony in the formation of racial hierarchies. In reading through some research on teaching race, I noticed several scholars mentioning that student journal-writing activities–where they can give their opinions in a private space and still apply the ideas of the course–were a significant factor in the acceptance of these kinds of complex course concepts. So I changed the Skillbuilders to Reflections and made them more focused on personal opinion and experiences related to readings and screenings. Each week the students would have applicable questions like “How would you define your relationship to race?” and “What do you think is the significance of the Jeremy Lin phenomenon?”, which they would have to answer in 200 to 300 or so words with reference to readings or screenings. Overall, I think this approach worked well. There was definitely less resistance from the Spring semester students than the Fall students in discussions over similar ideas.
At this point, I’m not sure that I’ll get the chance to teach the class again, but I still have an eye on future changes I’d make. I created a course Tumblr–which I plan to keep updating as I come across applicable examples and ideas–and posted some of the changes I’d make in the future. One of the last Reflections I assigned this Spring semester gave students a chance to comment on the changes. One of the things I’m most excited to try is the Production Project. The students had great responses to it in their Reflections, and it seems like such a fun way to get them to apply everything they learned in a creative way. I look forward to your responses too! Please feel free to post comments or suggestions here, and download and share the syllabi as you think might be useful. Also let me know if you’d like to know more about particular assignment guidelines. I’m happy to share!