BY BRANDI DYE
The most awarded artist in MTV Video Music Award history. The creative force behind Lemonade. The subject of academic study.
This fall, Drake University introduced a new First Year Seminar: Contextualizing Beyoncé: Gender, Feminism, and Popular Culture.
“What happens if we were to look at pop culture a little bit more critically and use Beyoncé as an example of a female, pop culture icon using feminism in what she’s creating?” said Erin Meek, who designed and teaches the course.
Although it is early in the semester, students have already begun answering that question.
“We listened to ‘Pretty Hurts’ and analyzed it,” said Allison Lopez, an education major with a concentration in women’s and gender studies. “I related it to more feminism, which is a view that people don’t really see. But after we did the first reading I was able to make that connection.”
In addition to in-class analysis, students will write formal essays, informal journal entries and analyze non-Beyoncé aspects of popular culture.
“The FYS is really about developing your skills as a college student. So teaching them how to be better writers, teaching them how to think critically. That’s the goal of the FYS program,” Meek said. “We get to do that while talking about Beyoncé.”
Specifically, students will discuss Beyoncé in conjunction with feminism, along with other pop culture figures.
“We really talk about everything when it comes to social issues in pop culture,” said Carolina Ramos, a law, politics, and society major with a concentration in women’s and gender studies. “I really like how we confront a lot of these issues and don’t dance around them.”
These social issues include gender, race and pop culture criticisms.
“I’m excited this year because this FYS is only one of the many FYSs that are talking about race and gender and immigration and politics and all of these topics that are really difficult but really important,” Meek said. “We’re having Drake students engage with these ideas right out of the gate.”
Meek encourages class discussion among her students as they share differing opinions.
“Since there are so many differing opinions, sometimes it’s even hard to agree to disagree,” said Kaitlyn Lind, a law, politics, and society, international relations, and music triple major.
Ramos agreed: “Not all of us have the same perspective on feminism and how women are portrayed and treated in today’s society.”
Throughout the semester, in-class discussions will be centered on outside-of-class analysis.
“We will be watching particular music videos on Lemonade and then talking about them in class, picking them apart together in class,” Meek said.
Students will also analyze readings on pop culture and pop culture criticism.
“I think what really sets it apart from other FYSs is that it’s not material that could be considered boring,” Lind said. “Even our textbooks are interesting.”
Although the class uses Beyoncé as a cultural touchstone, Meek hopes her students will gain more than a newfound appreciation of the artist.
“I saw a phrase on someone’s syllabus about reading popular culture that I am absolutely in love with and that I have stolen, with no remorse,” Meek said. “And that is to be more discerning consumers and creators of popular culture.”