Monday, November 30, 2009

Fordham at the School of the Americas Protest

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, I traveled with sixty Fordham students, staff members, and students from St. John’s University in Queens to the School of the Americas protest and Ignatian Family Teach-In in Fort Benning, Georgia. Why did so many of us spend eighteen hours on a bus in order to be a part of this event? Why did countless others travel from even farther?

I knew I wanted to attend the protest when I learned about the School of the Americas in a Latin American History class my sophomore year. Before I was able to, however, I would participate in a Global Outreach project to El Salvador that exposed me to many personal stories of the grave effects of the School of the Americas. When I learned about actions taken by SOA graduates, I was so taken aback that my government could be running such a school and I would never even hear about it.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The School of the Americas, renamed WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in 2001, is a military school in Georgia (previously held in Panama) where the United States Department of Defense trains mainly Latin American military officers in military and law enforcement tactics.

Many military officers, after graduating from the school, have been accused of egregious human rights violations throughout Latin America, and have been linked to countless deaths. Fr. Roy Bourgeois founded the SOA Watch in 1990 to protest the school. In addition to the annual protest, they do legislative work both to close the school and to fight for transparency regarding curriculum, faculty, and graduates. With increased transparency, the school could be held responsible for later actions taken by graduates if they learned those tactics while enrolled there.

For this post, however, I wanted to focus on the events of last weekend. I may still be processing some aspects of the experience. But I wanted to write about it because it tied in so many ideas of inter-American relations and violence, the role of a school like Fordham in an activist movement like the SOA Watch, and the experience of gathering as citizens to demonstrate for policy change.

On Friday night and Saturday morning, we participated in the Ignatian Family Teach-In (a gathering of the Ignatian Solidarity Network and Jesuit schools from across the nation) that focused on the SOA but also featured breakout session on other topics (for instance, I attended a breakout session about Nike entitled “Behind the Swoosh.”) It was so interesting and energizing to see so many groups of students and educators coming together to learn from and with one another on issues of social justice that are so often separated from academics. The Ignatian Solidarity Network has a special devotion to the closing of the SOA because SOA graduates were responsible for the murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador in November 1989.

On Sunday, some of the leaders of SOA Watch led the crowd in a funereal vigil to commemorate all those who have died at the hands of SOA graduates. After each name on a list of hundreds was read, everyone in the crowd responded “Presente.” This was a powerful representation of the vast numbers who have been killed, since the procession itself took hours. Afterwards, everyone placed a cross with the name of a victim either in the fence of the school or at the base of a flag representing countries that still send soldiers to the school, creating a powerful image of the number of people who have united to make a statement against the school. Four were arrested for “crossing the line” (crossing onto military base property to protest the school from within.)

I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in the event, which has left me with many questions but feeling like I have a better understanding of SOA Watch and the Ignatian Solidarity Network. It also has me thinking once more about the university’s relationship to outside society. The university’s role as a social force is an important one.

Additionally, we have been talking a little in our class discussions about what it means to be an engaged citizen, and one moment last Sunday that really stood out for me occurred after the procession, when the somber mood turns lighter as drums play and the crowd symbolically “reenters into life.” It was a very energizing moment, and I heard the chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like- This is what democracy looks like.”

Looking at all the passionate and energized individuals around me, I realized how much I liked that image of democracy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's A Small World After All

On Tuesday, November 17th, the Gangway Beatz rappers from Berlin, Germany came to Professor Naison’s “Feeling the Funk” class. The Gangway group had been New York City before and had already visited Fordham University. Because it was their second time coming to one of Professor Naison’s classes, they knew some of my classmates he had taught in previous semesters.
This talented group free-styled for our class both with and without hip-hop beats to back them up. Each group member took turns spittin’ verses, building off of the energy from the other performers as well as the positive vibe from the class as a whole. The group asked the class to participate in their performances. We would sing along to the hip-hop chorus, nod our heads, or wave our hands in the air.
It is unbelievable to me how this group could come up with such innovative and insightful rhymes on the spot without having prepared anything ahead of time. While I am somewhat familiar with improvisation from tap dance lessons I have taken from experienced hoofers, I would certainly never be able to do what the Berlin rappers did. I may be able to make my feet move on the spot, yet I could not think quickly enough to create witty, powerful, and entertaining verses flow into one another so brilliantly.
Though none of us in the class could understand what the rappers were saying since they were speaking in German (except maybe our blogger Taylor who lived in Germany for two years), the performers occasionally explained what their raps were about. Much of what they discussed was political. They attempted to raise consciousness about social issues that were particularly important to them. Even when the rappers did not explain what they were saying, our class still loved listening to them.
It is beautiful how music can bring people from all different places together. Music can make the world seem much smaller than we tend to imagine it. People who speak different languages, have diverse life experiences, and who are of different ages can feel united as they experience music together.
Our class took a wonderful picture with the Gangway rappers. This picture is posted on Facebook as well as the Gangway group’s website ( Looking at the picture, you can’t really distinguish who’s a rapper from Berlin and who’s a Fordham student.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guest Blog: Our Great (Gatsby) Evening at the MET

Were it an ordinary evening, I would not normally expect to be asked, “Mike, is my flapper dress straight?” or “Do my linen pants match my shoes?” Then again, this was no ordinary evening—several (about 40) of my friends from Tierney Hall and I were getting ready for what would prove to be the perfect inauguration to our lives as college students living in New York. Straight out of the 1920’s, we excitedly set off for a lavish evening soirée after-hours at the MET: “The West Egg on the East Side: A (Great) Gatsby Party in the New American Wing,” popularized in the American Studies Newsletter.

After missing the Ram Van and receiving an odd glance from my Philosophy professor as we dashed to the Metro-North (apparently white pants are unacceptable in October…), we arrived at the MET a bit late, but certainly in style. We were awestruck by the Temple of Dendur, which was beautifully lit up with purple and blue lights, the upbeat Jazz music and chocolate-covered strawberries setting an elegant atmosphere for the evening. However, we had yet to explore the main attraction—The New American Wing.

The new wing at the MET was breathtaking—from a large circular room built around a panorama of Versailles to ornate, meticulously designed recreations of 1920’s salons, the art truly was truly fitting to the occasion. Of course, the MET was unafraid to incorporate some elements of modernity such as touch-screen computers showcasing each element of the salons, but the museum certainly created a wholly immersive exhibit that complemented our Gatsby-styled evening superbly.

Overall, our evening at the MET was certainly educational and interesting, but also quite fun. Dancing the Charleston under an Egyptian temple, taking interior design tips from 1920’s high society women, and addressing each other as “old sport” all made for an unforgettable evening, the ultimate beginning to our Freshman year.

For those interested in other events by the MET’s College Group (who officially hosted the event), visit

Mike Rametta

Freshman and possible future American Studies major

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Imagining" Salsa

Taylor’s intriguing, and well-written, blog has inspired me to elaborate on the theme of “imagined communities.” Taylor discusses Stalter’s article about the Third Avenue El Train. Because the train ran so close to apartment buildings, it seemed to bring the people of the city closer together. The train “reinforced urban community” and created an “imaginary connection” between people” (323).
Benedict Anderson coined the phrase, “imagined community,” when discussing the concept of a nation. He believed that a nation was ultimately a socially constructed community. While the people of a nation are extremely diverse and have no real interaction on a regular basis, they feel unified with one another and believe they are part of a collective.
When thinking about this more, I realized Anderson’s ideas relate very much to themes I am exploring for my thesis. My thesis deals with salsa during its heyday, from the late 1960s throughout the 1970s. Salsa music has ultimately fostered “imagined communities” among Latinos residing both within, and outside, the United States.
Many working-class Latinos in the US lived in New York City (particularly in “el barrio” or the Bronx) during the time period. While Puerto Rican immigrants (or “Newyoricans”) comprised a large portion of these Latinos, there were many other migrants in the city from other parts of the Caribbean. All Latinos, regardless of where they originated geographically, struggled with similar social issues. They could not receive high paying jobs, they lived amidst much violence and poverty in urban neighborhoods, and they often struggled with their identities.
While it is true that many Latinos dispersed throughout New York did have direct contact with one another when they went to salsa clubs and danced together, obviously not all Latinos could know, or communicate, with one another. However, simply listening to salsa records alone in their homes fostered an imagined sense of communion among themselves and other Latinos.
Some of the greatest salsa songs aroused social consciousness for all urban Latinos. Drawing upon inspiration from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, salsa artists made Latinos aware of their marginalized social position and called for unification. Lyrics to particular songs described living conditions in the barrio and the struggles people faced on a daily basis.
Not only did salsa music appeal to Latinos in the US, but it was also enjoyed by Latinos living in other countries. Salsa became extremely popular throughout Latin America. For instance, Conjunto Libre’s song, “Imagenes latinos,” called for pan-Latino solidarity among working-class Latinos of all races. Some of the lyrics are: “Indians, Hispanics, and blacks, we’ve been mixed into a blend, with the blood of all races to create a new future;…We’re Latin American, from the center, north, and south, with a present of struggle and a future of light.” People of Latin heritage living all over ultimately saw salsa music as a link to their common roots. Therefore, the music forged a kind of imagined, transnational community. It was the essence of the Latino soul.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Museum of the American Indian

While most New Yorkers headed to the annual Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, trick-or-treated in the streets, or simply slept in from the night prior, I, along with Lynne Rowan (an American Studies minor and a good friend), traveled downtown to the Museum of the American Indian. Located in the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, the museum contains artifacts and art from some of America’s indigenous groups.

Currently, the Museum of the American Indian features artwork from Annie Pootoogook, an Inuit, and Andrea Carlson, an Anishinaabe, and an excellent exhibit on the role of women’s dress in native cultures. This particular exhibit really held my attention, for a variety of reasons. After taking Native American Philosophy with Professor Green, I began to develop a great interest in Native American life. Because clothing is such an integral aspect of indigenous cultures, this exhibit displayed so much more than just dresses and beadwork. Clothing and accessories serve as both a means of identification for Native American tribes and a way of preserving cultural traditions. It was particularly fascinating to see items that were worn during the Ghost Dance in 1890, which was an extremely rare opportunity. My other primary interest lay in the actual pieces themselves. As a fairly dedicated follower of fashion, I noticed that certain items, such as the tall beaded moccasin boots, looked surprisingly similar to trends popular in the modern day.

Lynne and I were also able to participate in the museum’s Day of the Dead celebrations. We watched dances and made various arts and crafts. It was definitely a less conventional way to spend a Halloween, but we had a really fun time. I would encourage others interested in Native American culture to visit the museum as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Busy Week

So...I've had a busy week. For those that don't know I'm am heavily involved with theatre at Rose Hill. I usually Stage Manage the shows for the Mimes and Mummers (a group whose ranks include Allen Alda and G. Gordon Liddy) but I was offered the position of stage manager for the FET (Fordham Experimental Theater) production of "The Twilight Zone" and I couldn't resist.

As a result, I have been unable to attend any campus activities in the last two weeks because I have been at rehearsal making sure everything was ready for opening night (which was tonight).

For those of you who don't know (and that's probably many since I've only made about three blogs (and this is a lot of parenthesis for one blog)) I am something of a theatre fanatic. I have worked as a technician or stage manager in a number of theatres (college, corporate (Anheuser-Busch) and Off-Off-Broadway) in my career. Whether or not this becomes a part of my "real"-life I do not know, but it is certainly one of my more enjoyable hobbies (I designed the lights and ran the lightboard for fellow blogger Sara Devany's dance performance once).

As a result of this fascination I recently purchased and began reading a history of the Theatre of the Absurd. This particular genre of theatre is unique because it focuses not on characters or on plot but on the interaction of characters and often it focuses on the inability of human beings to communicate.

In the case of Samuel Beckett and Eudgene Ionesco the issue of communication orthe futility of human interaction is often a theme. In an abstract way this is also the theme of Sunny Stalter's article about the Third Avenue Elevated Train and its eventual demolition.

In this article Statler discusses how people in New York felt a nostalgia for this elevated train because it let them see into the lives of others whom they could see through the windows they passed while riding the train. As we discussed in our Approaches to American Studies Seminar, however, this was only an imagined community because it was not reciprocal. The people in the windows did not have a glimpse into the lives of the train riders in the same way that the train riders had a glimpse into the lives of the apartment dwellers.

This got me thinking, what is an imagined community and what is a real community. People of the Third Avenue El felt they were in an imagined community with all of the people whom they passed while riding to work, people from the same state feel they are part of the same community of others from the same state (Kurt Vonnegut calls this the greatest of granfalloons). So what exactly constitutes a real community, and real communication as the Absursist authors wanted to know.

To be honesy and fair, I don't know. Its know living in the same state, its not liking the same music or the same beer at the bar. It seems that the only undeniable community is that of blood relation, but if that were the case then communities would be very small.

So, community, as I believe it (and as the absurdist playwrights believed it couldn't exist) is in effective communication. The communication of truths, whatever these truths are about. Two people on the D Train are members of the same community if the train stops midway between two stops and they look at each other in frustration, thereby communicating their feeling, two people are also members of a community if they have watched the same movie and laughed at the same moment, thereby communicating the feeling of happiness. Community and truth are both ethreal experiences that often transcend colloquial language but can be exposed through a ride on the subway or through a play of great merit.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Howard Dean "Beyahs" the American Media

Last week, the College Democrats brought Dr. Howard Dean to speak to the Fordham community and I got to interview him before the event for a piece in The Ram.

Before this, all I knew about Dean was basic. It was basically "beyah" - the infamous roar of the doctor/governor who lost the Democratic nomination in 2004.

Researching for the interview, I learned that as both a politician and a medical doctor, Howard Dean has had a significant influence on America, spearheading some truly innovative health care reform in his home state Vermont and largely reinventing traditional campaign strategy, essentially setting the tone for the innovative Obama campaign.

But most of America does not know this. Like me, all they associate Dean with is "beyah," thanks to the media syndication of utterance.

As an aspiring journalist, I am very interested in what some academics have termed "media psychology," the influence of the media on human understanding of policies, events and people.

In this case, I believe the media frenzy and commotion over the "Dean Scream" has both helped and hurt him. Positively, the viral publicity the media created brought Dean attention he would not have otherwise received in 2004 (he was just a governor at that point, not a national political figure). Negatively, voter knowledge of him often stopped there, he was confined to this one association, all his sophisticated policies and goals were sacrificed for one this one trivial moment on his campaign.

Looking at the clip years after it happened is interesting. What was once constantly replicated on every news channel and spoofed by both professional and novice satirists, now seems extremely trivial. In fact, I would argue that both Obama and McCain each had individual instances of much more resounding rhetoric during their respective campaigns than the "Dean Scream" moment.

The positioning of media within politics is complicated. It is a vehicle that, when used well, can result in much positive political change. However, it also works against politics, focusing sometimes on these trivial bouts and criticizing the activities of government to a point that is counter-constructive.

Will Dean’s legacy be “beyah” or bettering America? It remains to be seen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

American Studies at DisneyWorld

To celebrate my father's return from Afghanistan my family went on a 4 day vacation to Disney World last weekend.

I had never been before and there were a few things I found there that surprised me.

Firstly, the Hall of Presidents. This attraction is meant to be a celebration of the American presidency and the men who have held that position. Since Disneyworld is a family theme park I wasn't surprised that the presentation avioded some serious issues, but I was surprised at what they chose to present.

Thomas Jefferson recieved no mention in the presentation while Andrew Jackson got extensive coverage, without mention of the Trail of Tears of course. Lincoln was presented as having run for the presidency on a platform of abolition of slavery. An interesting rewrite of history which I suppose was intended to lend a sense of morality to Lincoln's election.

Any dissatisfaction I had with the historical accuracy of the presentation was erased when, halfway the introduction of all of the presidents the Bill Clinton animatron checked his watch.

The next encounter I had which gave me pause as an American studies major was at Splash Mountain. The popular attraction tells the story of Brer Rabbit and Brers Bear and Fox. Brer Rabbit is an adaptation of Brother Rabbit the African American folktale in which he outsmarts Brother Fox and authority figures. Brer Bear is presented as a Sambo character, dumbly following Brer Fox's orders and twice making a fool of himself by being caught in his own traps.

I'm suprised that such a portrayal of slave era Black stereotypes recieved such a display in a major theme park like Disneyworld.

Disney's Carousel of Progress displays how technology has played a role in the American family. The American family of course being a white family with one daughter, one son, and a dog. The Carousel opened for the 1964 World's fair and tauts the benefits of scientific progress. Unlike the Pastoralism discussed by Leo Marx in Machine in the Garden Disney welcomes all new technology for the increase in quality of living it provides.

The last scene of the dislpay shows the family at Christmastime where the mother has just finished programming the family's kitchen appliances to respond to voice commands. In the scene the father unintentionally increases the temperature of the oven to 975 degrees, burning the turkey. So, while Disney himself was a technophile, there is a still a sense that we are not entirely in control of the technology we are creating, and while it makes our lives easier in some ways, in other ways it controls us.

Overall the trip was a lot of fun, and after seeing all of the crying, screaming children and the parents that thought it would be a good idea to bring them to Disneyworld I would recommend to anyone that they wait till their children are in their 20s before going for the first time to avoid a lot of tears and frustration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Cambodian Legacy Presented by Cathy Schlund-Vials

On Thursday, October 8th, I had the pleasure of meeting Cathy J. Schlund-Vials during an open discussion with my thesis class. Following the discussion, I attended her lecture entitled, “Battling the Cambodian syndrome: Cambodian/American Memory, Politics, and Youth Activism.” Both the open-discussion and lecture were extremely informative and intriguing. They largely focused on the impact of the “Killing Fields”- an era in Cambodian history in which massive genocides were conducted by the Khmer Rough. These genocides unfortunately resulted in approximately two-million Cambodians perishing.
Ms. Schlund-Vials informed my peers and I that the legacy of the “Killing Fields” has not been adequately dealt with in Cambodia. Shockingly, many people living in Cambodia have known next to nothing of the genocidal history. Currently, “no consistent policy for reconciliation exists in Cambodia” (Schlund-Vials, 21). Even memorials of the genocide that do exist in Cambodia can be labeled as sites of “atrocity tourism,” where Cambodian subjectivity is elevated to spectacle. By willingly paying money to visit these sites, tourists are being interpellated into accepting a commercial system in which profits are made by exposing human suffering and atrocities.
Thankfully, Cambodian-American rapper, PraCh, is allowing some form of Cambodian justice to be served through his music. PraCh was immersed within hip hop culture in his community in Long Beach, California. He had felt connected with this particular culture, or way of life, which has historically been a means for the socially marginalized to express their interpretation of life. Hip hop music is therefore a cultural product. PraCh’s hip hop music exposes his personal truth and a larger truth for all Cambodians. Though it has not made it into the American mainstream, it seems more meaningful than many modern hip hop albums which only discuss drugs, crime, and women.
By exposing trauma and memorializing the “Killing Fields,” PraCh consciously resists against the hegemony of political officials who have successfully kept the past hidden from the public through both ideological and repressive means. His music relates to the popular saying, “the personal is the political.” Political and historical events shape our conception of self and the world around us.
PraCh is both creating and exposing a collective Cambodian-American identity with his music. This identity is complicated by refugee status. While PraCh and other Cambodian-American youths consider the US their home, they also realize the US has approved of foreign policy initiatives which contributed to the strength of corrupt Asian regimes. US policy has also led to the deportation of numerous Cambodian refugees. PraCh, therefore, does not buy into the concept of American exceptionalism. The US is a flawed nation which often seeks to fulfill its own interests at the expense of others. Similarly, PraCh is critical of the myth of the “American Dream.” The US is not necessary a place of paradise with limitless opportunity.
PraCh’s music is a transnational means of communication. This relates to the argument Susan J. Douglas makes in her article, “The Turn Within.” She argues that “new communications technologies have not created a global village but have, ironically, led to…a “turn within” (66). While music itself is not a “technology,” it is a product of technology. PraCh’s music was created with advanced technological equipment that enabled the mixing of recorded political propaganda speeches, traditional Cambodian musical beats, instrumentation, and vocals. It was dispersed and heard overseas with the aid of communications technology. PraCh’s innovative music ultimately challenges Douglas’ argument. His music, which was created in the US, became extremely popular in Cambodia. It has enabled Cambodian and Cambodian-American youths to connect with one another in a radically new way. Therefore, his music is promoting a more connected world in which people from distant geographical places can link like never before. New international communities are being formed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mad Men

It took me nearly three seasons to catch on, but I am glad I finally did. The lying! The cheating! The scandals! I mean, it’s no wonder I spent half of my summer in front of the tube barely blinking and the other half waiting for the mail man to arrive with my next Netflix installment.

I am of course referring to my, and in a larger sense, America’s, fixation with Mad Men, AMC’s popular and critically acclaimed period drama set in a New York City advertising agency in the 1960s. While the characters’ engagement in taboo behavior, such as drinking alcohol in the office, committing adultery, and chain smoking while pregnant, certainly command a viewer’s attention, I am most interested in the show’s extreme commitment to historical accuracy.

Because of history and Hollywood's notorious incompatibility (Pearl Harbor anyone?), I was pleasantly surprised to discover how well Matt Weiner recreated the era and its corporate culture. According to my limited research, Mad Men is one of the most meticulously put together shows with very little creative licensing. Vanity Fair’s Bruce Handy describes one story in which Weiner replaced the apples they were using as props, because they did not resemble the non-genetically enhanced produce of the era. Weiner and his team research weather patterns, repeat costumes, and, as the apple story indicates, select props with care. Handy also reports that the writers extensively consulted the commuter train schedules from the Westchester suburb where Don Draper lives to Grand Central, aiming for accuracy whenever possible.

My Mad Men obsession intensified after reading The Conquest of Cool, which I read last week for the senior seminar. According to Thomas Frank, the 1960s advertising culture co-opted the counterculture in order to sell the very products that the “hip” detest. The book also discusses the sort of corporate environment of the 1960s ad agencies, which Mad Men manages to depict with great accuracy. I do not want to spoil any plot lines, so I think I will stop there, but I will say that Mad Men enhanced my reading of The Conquest of Cool. If you want to imagine “the man in the gray flannel suit,” look no farther than Don Draper.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Cultural Analysis of College Safety

The Daily Beast, a "news reporting and opinion web site," published by Tina Brown (a former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker) and edited by Edward Felsenthal (a former editor at The Wall Street Journal), recently compiled a list of the 25 most unsafe college campuses in America.

Safety at Fordham is a delicate issue to all students here, not just American Studies majors, especially in light of the recent string of off-campus incidents.  However, I thought it would be interesting to evaluate this list through some of the cultural studies theories we have recently learned about in the American Studies thesis seminar.

The findings of this college safety survey were interesting.  Harvard, Yale, MIT, Tufts and Brown (Professor Hendler's alma mater)- some of America's most prestigious institutions of higher learning-  were among the 25 most unsafe campuses in America.  They were accompanied by many schools in Maryland, where crime and crime reporting standards are each very high.  Also with them on the list were six historically black universities. Fordham was (luckily!) not included on this list of unsafe colleges.

For cultural studies scholars, like the ones we've been engaging with in class, the holistic compilation/existence of this list is far more interesting to analyze than it's individual findings.  There are largely two schools of thought in cultural analysis, the Frankfurt School and the Birmingham School, and each would receive the list differently.

Frankfurt scholars subscribe to something called "Critical Theory," believing that "one must be critical of the structure of underlying social practices to reveal the possible distortion of social life embodied in them" (Shawn Rosenberg). In essence, these scholars believe that there is an underlying social consciousness that perpetuates through society, a narrow lens or limited framework we are predetermined to see the world through.  In terms of production and the creation of products, Frankfurt scholars believe that humans are not who the products are made for but products themselves.

Birmingham scholars subscribe to "Reception Theory," believing that individuals are not predetermined to simply believe the social practices around them; they are not passive audiences but active participants.  Birmingham scholars believe each individual has the ability to receive information, "negotiate" its meaning, and ultimately interpret it for himself or herself based on his or her individual circumstances.

Based on my limited understanding of these theories, I believe Frankfurt scholars would be extremely critical of this list.  They would say that,no matter how controlled the methodology the researchers utilized was, the controls would not be enough to circumvent the underlying social consciousness that surround these American institutions.  In essence, the list would always be a reflection of some of society's underlying prejudices- like the association of minority universities with crime and the existence of largely prestigious in poorer areas- and the findings would serve as a vehicle of perpetuation for such beliefs.

Birmingham scholars would take an alternative perspective, believing that the list would be interpreted differently by each respective individual to which it is presented, that people would decide for themselves whether the results were tainted.

Safety on college campuses is a difficult subject to analyze.  Even when the compilation is meant to be scientific (simply ranking universities by the number criminal incidents they report each year) it is inevitably permeated with the individual geographical, sociological and economical circumstances associated with each university.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Bronx Tale

Today I attended two events sponsored by the African and African-American Studies Department. The first of which was the department's open house, the second a book talk for The Rat that Got Away a memoir written by Allen Jones with Mark Naison.

At 11:30 in the morning I met Dr. Naison (also known as Notorious PhD) and two other students from my Feeling the Funk class to go pick up the food for the open house from a small hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint called Johnson's BBQ in the Morrisiania neighborhood of the Bronx.

As we drove down Notorious PhD gave the three of us an impromptu tour of the area, pointing out a few school yards where the likes of Gradmaster Flash would hold his hip-hop sessions early in the movement.

Johnson's was about the size of a large closet, with no seating and only one employee, Duane Johnson. The smell of the food hit us as soon as we stepped out of the car. For health reasons I'm glad I don't live within walking distance of this fine establishment, otherwise I think I would be unable to prevent myself from eating the ribs, fried chicken and collard greens that this place serves everyday (If you haven't ever had the food, you MUST).

After the department open house I went to Duane Library to hear the talk for Allen Jones' memoir. Jones grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s and 60s before going to Luxembourg to be a professional basketball player in Europe and ended up working in banking for a number of years.

Dr. Naison, Jones, and Angela O'Donnell worked together on the book, mostly via email. Jones still lives in Luxembourg while Naison and O'Donnell are faculty at Fordham. Naison emphasized a few things in the talk that I found interesting.

The first was the collaborative element of the writing. Without Naison, Jones never would have written his memoir, and without O'Donnell's editing skills, the memoir would not have its driving plot.

The book, as Naison mentioned, was mostly written via email. The technology that allows me to write this blog, and Jones' to write his novel has made information sharing easier than ever before, and made projects such as this possible. No longer does there have to be the lone writer in a room with his work, the image that Naison contrasted this work with.

Which brings me to the second point that Naison brought up, which is that due to the nature of this writing project, it required a great deal of trust. Trust on the part of Jones' to share his writing with Naison, from Naison that Jones was the real deal, and O'Donnell that all the hard editing work she did would be taken seriously.

This speaks to kind of balancing act we all have to do in this technological era. We have to work together, but we also have to be careful not to be swindled. Its easier than ever to steal someone's identity or personal information. In the case of Naison, Jones and O'Donnell, working together helped everyone and now Jones' memoir is being read in middle and high schools in the Bronx and being given to members of local youth sports teams.

I guess the point of this blog is that you have to be careful on the internet but not so careful that you miss out on the opportunity to write your memoir when someone asks you to, just make sure they're legitimate. And also the Bronx is an amazing center of culture and I hope to get to know more about it so I can write some more of these blogs.

Monday, September 21, 2009


My peers and I in the American Studies Senior Thesis course have recently read Omi and Winant’s “Racial Formation in the United States.” While I found this book extremely insightful and helpful in better understanding the concept of “race,” (which is also defined in the book “Keywords in American Studies”) I also felt that it was somewhat limited in that it only offered a leftist perspective on racial issues. I would have liked to have heard a conservative viewpoint on race and racism, rather than simply hearing an interpretation of the right’s beliefs based on the authors’ conceptions of them.
Like Professor Hendler pointed out in one of his blogs, a word can have a “wide range of meanings,” and therefore, people can “mean different things by the same word.” Omi and Winant mention how in a classroom discussion of “race” white students saw race as a “nonessential reality” while black and biracial students “saw the centrality of race” in everyday life. For white students, racism had to do with “color-consciousness” while for black and biracial students it dealt with a “system of power.” These differing responses show how there is really no “common sense” understanding of race and racism. Rather than being objective and fixed, “race” seems to be an ambiguous word that has different meaning to different groups of people.
Omi and Winant’s definition of “racial-formation” accounts for this ambiguity. They define this concept as a “sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed.”
It is important to think about “race” and understand that it continues to play a vital role in our society. I was just recently skimming thorough an issue of the New York Times magazine (the September 13th issue) and noticed that a special advertising supplement was entirely dedicated to how various companies (including the New York Times itself) actively promoted diversity in the workforce.
Omi and Winant argue that race is a central part of society and should not be dismissed. A “colorblind” view of society, where the significance of race is denied, may actually be counterproductive. I thought of this as I was speaking to my dad, who is a trial attorney, one night after dinner. He was discussing with me the process of selecting a jury for a particular case he had. From what he said, I realized that in addition to taking a perspective juror’s profession, age, and education into account, he also automatically considered a perspective juror’s race (ethnicity, gender, and religion). Stereotypes (however inaccurate) continue to play an important role in the jury selection process.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

'Toying' with Thesis Writing

It was the first week in May (our spring semester finals were still going on) when we received the syllabus for our American Studies senior thesis seminar.  Probably five minutes after the syllabus entered my inbox, my phone starting beeping incessantly with text messages from my American Studies friends, everyone instantly stressed and apprehensive about the seminar's workload.

Despite receiving an impeccably precise and detailed syllabus months before our class began, we all were just as apprehensive months later as we walked into the seminar on that first day.  The American Studies major's characteristic flexibility in class selection and fluid interdisciplinary requirements seemed to skip over the thesis seminar component of the major:  each year the thesis seminar course has a set, concrete topic and series of required readings to accompany it. In comparison with other thesis courses at both Fordham and other universities, it seemed limiting and restrictive, not open, inviting to new ideas and personalized for each thesis topic.  While I was very aware we did not have to write on the theme of the seminar, it was astoundingly difficult to look at all the required reading and fathom how we would get this reading done in addition to independent research on our specific topic.

This week's class definitely settled this unrest, as we spent the class discussing the extreme amount of pain but also the sincere pride that comes out of conducting original research.  Our professors offered a few perspectives about thesis writing that I had never considered that I'd like to share here:

Writing a thesis is like playing with toys:  Well, I will admit the surface-level analogy is pretty weak (toys are fun and so is thesis writing!) but the root of the comparison is interesting.  At this stage of our projects, many of my classmates and I have all these ideas we want to explore (the running joke is that whenever someone makes an interesting observation, even with questions as trivial as why do freshman only walk in herds of 20, we respond with "ohh that could be a great thesis topic").  Everyone of us has either changed their thesis topic/research question 4 times already or has at least questioned their project decision.  To settled our indecisiveness, Professor Kim suggested looking at all these observations/ideas/potential thesis topics as "intellectual toys."  While he did not go into the following specifics, for me at least, the comparison made a lot of sense.  Ultimately, you have to choose a topic with which you will not get bored - it has to be one of those toys you played with over and over, not just the toy that you played with only once and ignored from then out.  In addition to this, the thesis topic has to be durable and strong - it can't be like one of those cheap toys that broke after the first time you played with it - because it has to last all semester and for many, many pages of intellectual insight.  Finally, it is impossible to explore all the topics you want at the same time, as it was impossible for us to play with all our toys at the same time, so you must pick your favorite one.  The comparison works for me holistically because of this: most of us did not stand in the toy store or in front of a tv ad and say "Mom, that is going to be my favorite toy."  Kids are naturally drawn to certain material playthings and I think that intellectual pursuits follow the same type of natural disposition. We are naturally drawn to certain topics, and these topics should ultimately be what we write our thesis on, "our intellectual toy." 

Writing a thesis is like drowning:  Drowning in information, yes, but our professors put it best, it is most like "drowning in intellectual confusion." I had always pictured research as very invigorating, a constant high, like swimming those first laps in a pool.  However, it has not really felt like that at all and our professors provided us with this solace, that it is ok to feel like you are drowning trying to find answers.  After all, if we knew the answers to our research questions before, there really would be no reason to pursue these projects.  Drowning is ok, because there are lifeguards to help us out, like our seminar professors, our other advisors and even the sources of our topic's existing scholarship.  It is ok to drown for a little while because it teaches you how to pull yourself back up to the surface, just like "intellectual confusion" teaches you how to distinguish good sources, decipher complex theories and ultimately write an excellent paper on your findings.

Clearly after Thursday's class, our original apprehension from May has somewhat settled.  After all, we're basically just playing with toys and going for a swim.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Senior Year

For some people, the fall season means changing leaves, football games, and cozy sweaters. For me and the other American Studies seniors, it means it’s time to finish our senior theses.

When I enrolled in the American Studies program as a sophomore, the idea of committing to such a long writing project seemed daunting, but I was not too concerned because it seemed so far in the distant future. I figured that by my senior year I would be significantly more scholarly and wise, or that selecting a thesis topic would be a simple task. I was obviously wrong on both accounts. After about a year of thought and preliminary reading, I decided to focus my research on the relationship between women’s magazines and society during the 1960s. As a Communications minor and an intern at a women’s fashion magazine, I thought this topic would be a good way to blend my interest in magazines with the sociological, historical, and political implications of such an iconic era. I have a few specific ideas for my thesis, but it is still definitely a work in progress.

That being said, senior year has been incredibly fun, yet stressful. This semester I am taking classes on American Pluralism and TV Comedy, in addition to my American Studies seminar. I also have an internship at a fashion magazine, which is extremely fun but requires a lot of hard work. I have held magazine internships in the past, and no Devil Wears Prada moments yet.

I think the year is off to a great start and I wish everyone the best of luck!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thinking--and feeling--about 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was not yet at Fordham. I was teaching at Notre Dame, which means I was living in the Midwest, far from where the crimes took place. Even though I’m a scholar who works on the history of emotions, and so am the last person to argue that emotions don’t matter, it seemed very important—after registering shock and horror—that our emotions about 9/11 not prevent us from thinking. The risk was that we might let our sense of injury turn into blind rage, and that the thinking we did about 9/11 might turn into a set of clichés. At moments of public trauma, that’s always the risk: that we fall back into the rut of what’s easy, what’s familiar, what we oddly call our “gut” reactions. Such reactions are often violent and counterproductive, and when we’re operating from our guts, we can be easily manipulated into turning our rage onto any convenient target. The violent attacks on Muslims that followed 9/11 are strong evidence for this; an argument can be made that Americans were manipulated into supporting the invasion of Iraq—a country that of course had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11—because the sense of injury and the rage that followed made it so much harder to think clearly about causes, effects, and consequences.

I don’t know what Fordham did after 9/11, and of course many readers of this blog weren’t yet in high school when it happened. At Notre Dame, I worked together with three other faculty members to plan a week of panel discussions that took place in dormitory common rooms across the campus. None of the other faculty members necessarily shared my political views, but all of us shared a sense that being at a university meant that we had an opportunity and an obligation to encourage complex thinking about 9/11: its causes and consequences; its policy implications; the best possible responses.

Above all, we agreed that it was essential that we encourage a wide range of ways of thinking about 9/11. So we welcomed on the panels people from every political perspective and intellectual tradition, so long as everyone agreed to let everyone else have their say. People argued—often passionately—for their interpretations and perspectives, and the panels were lively, interesting, and serious. And students showed up by the hundreds to each of the 8 panel discussions. I have no idea how many—if any—were swayed toward the points of view I’d advocate myself. But I think the week of events was a success, in that it showed us all that people could think very differently about 9/11 and yet be caring, thinking individuals.

That seemed very important, because another temptation at moments of public trauma is to think that we all must feel and think in exactly the same way, and that anyone who deviates from proper feeling or thinking is inhuman, inhumane, un-American. There was a lot of that in the weeks (and months and years) after 9/11. To say something that before then (or years later) seemed perfectly reasonable (which is not to say that everyone agreed with it)—say, that a history of support for brutal dictatorial regimes around the world might have something to do with the rage felt toward the U.S. by millions of people, though nothing could justify murdering thousands of people in downtown New York City—could result in rage and violence toward whoever said such a thing. It seemed for a while there that if you thought differently about what had happened, it was a sign that you were unfeeling. Frankly, I found that brutal uniformity of sentiment to be more frightening than the statistically very small possibility that I might be killed in a terrorist attack. Though the latter felt scary, too, it seemed quite remote compared to the everyday sense that the range of political and social and cultural possibilities in the U.S. was narrowing drastically. Again, I think the political right took advantage of this structure of feeling to its own benefit for several years.

But it’s important to distinguish between this sort of enforced conformity and another way of connecting thought with feeling: solidarity, which we can define as fellow-feeling: with the victims and their loved ones; with those in harm’s way; with those on all sides who might die in any military response. Nowhere did I see more of that more admirable reaction than in New York City, which I visited several times in the months and years following 9/11. Back in Indiana, I’d tell people that the very city that was attacked, and that lost the most people, was also one of the places most opposed to massively violent responses to the attack like the invasion of Iraq, and that what I saw in New York—in the heroism of first responders, in the efforts and cleanup and recovery, and in the huge demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq—was often a solidarity that I found extraordinarily admirable. The further you got from the actual experience of 9/11, it sometimes seemed, the more the response became simplistic, jingoistic, brutal, violent. In New York, it seemed, it was still possible to recognize that we did not “all feel the same way,” as the cliché goes, about 9/11.

Perhaps the most powerful—emotionally moving and intellectually effective—response to 9/11 that I saw was just a few weeks later, when that horrible, acrid smell was still thick in the air around the Prince Street gallery where the collection of photographs called “Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs” was first displayed. Its curators’ principle was simply that they would print, in the same size and format, any photo of the day that anyone brought in, and display it. The exhibition has since toured the world in various forms, and become a book and a website. A couple of years ago, when it was up at the New-York Historical Society, a group of students wrote about it for a presentation in their Major Developments in American Culture class (there; you knew I’d get an American Studies reference in here somewhere).

You might think that such an exhibition would end up being incoherent. And it certainly couldn’t be reduced to a single message, to a singular argument about how we should think and feel about 9/11. But that was part of the point: 9/11 shouldn’t be reduced to a cliché, a jingoistic, nationalistic slogan. To do so is not just to play into those who want to manipulate our feelings and thoughts about that day; it’s to betray the actual experience of the event. I’m not arguing for a distanced, objective view of 9/11; as American Studies junior Kaylyn Toale says in her posting on this blog, that’s not possible and may not even be desirable. But I am arguing that we should find ways of connecting our thinking and feelings about the events of that day—and any other public traumas, past and future—that prevent us from brutally enforced conformity of thought and emotion. Anytime we hear someone else—or we find ourselves—saying that “we all feel the same way” about something, it’s worth taking a step back, to think about what ideological position is being enforced through that claim about our conformity of feeling. If we do, in the future we might be able to avoid repeating some of the mistakes of the eight years since 9/11.

A New Year and Looking Back

The beginning of a new school year is, quite simply, decision time.

And I have never been very good at decisions.

This seems to be quite a common attribute among the American Studies community. We can’t choose among our passions; we desire connections, not strict classifications. Fragments frustrate us. We want to take a literature class, and a history class, and a sociology class, and a philosophy class, and… well, you get the point. To me, American Studies offered the best means to channel these varied interests, which encouraged my switch from my original intention: Communication and Media Studies. When I declared an American Studies major I took on a whole new set of decisions. Now, I pursue Communications as a minor, and can see my exposure to various disciplines as contributing to my future role in the communications field or elsewhere.

One of the first decisions that faced me this year was the question of study abroad in the spring. As the application deadline rapidly approached, I found myself wavering about whether it was the right thing to do. I found myself asking the all-too-obvious question: If my objective is to study America, does it make sense to leave America to do so? However, I am very interested in the outside perspective on America, especially after a class called “Development and Globalization” increased my interest in the impact we have on developing nations and on the global scale. The program on which I settled ultimately offered an opportunity to view America from the outside—specifically, from a transatlantic perspective. And with that, I decided to apply to a program at the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin in Ireland. Nothing is set in stone yet (in fact, I have only applied to Fordham’s own office of International & Study Abroad Programs so far), but I think it would be an enriching experience and I am very excited about the possibility.

As far as this semester goes, I think I am through with the tough decision-making part for now. In addition to the “Approaches to American Studies” course, I am taking a literature and writing class about “The American Voice”, a sociology class entitled “Media, Crime, Sex, and Violence”, and a Lincoln Center class that focuses on “Communications for Social Change.” I will also be continuing my internship at the Fresh Air Fund—but I will probably be writing more on that in a later post. I am definitely looking forward to this new semester.


On a more serious note, it seems important to mention the importance of this day, when we recognize and remember once again the indelible impact left on our nation and our lives eight years ago. We will hear many people recounting their stories of “where they were when," reminiscent of those our parents share regarding the JFK assassination and other historic moments. One such narrative is carried, I believe, in the heart of every American, and it does not fade with time. I am still not sure I have found the words to try to address the events of September 11, 2001. What does this anniversary mean to us as students of America and of New York City? Can we ever take a step back from our personal, very intimate relationship to the events of our lifetime and look at them in a purely academic way? Should we even try? Perhaps not- but perhaps we can use our shared and collective experiences with our own history to deepen our studies and understanding of America and her people. I have included the quotation below simply because it puts much more eloquently than I could the things I appreciate a reminder of on this important day of remembrance and reflection.

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.”-Arundhati Roy

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beginning of Junior Year and Johan Norberg

Another year began at Fordham University this week. I must admit I had grown used to an empty and quiet campus over the summer but the returning students have brought back a lot of life and activity to Rose Hill.

This will be my junior year. I'll have more opportunities to explore the courses offered to American Studies majors, look into taking on a minor (I'm considering African and African American Studies) and put thought into studying abroad in the spring (but probably not).

The year began for me last night at a guest lecture by Johan Norberg. Norberg is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based out of Washington DC, and the author of two books. The event was co-sponsored by the College Republicans and the Young Americans for Liberty, a new group at Fordham that has just recieved official club status. Since I was one of the first 20 people to arrive I was lucky enough to get a free copy of Norberg's newest book, Financial Fiasco: How America's Infatuation with Homeownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis. The jury is still out on whether I'll actually have a chance to read it as classes started and I'll be hard pressed to find time to do any personal reading until December.

Norberg's lecture focussed on, what else, the current economic crisis. He claims that the crisis has been caused by 7 steps including easy money, home ownership and the creation of the shadow banking system to handle repackaged and redistributed mortgage securities. Norberg admitted that it was a little rude of him to blame the Americans for the crisis (himself a Swede) but assured us that other countries were trying to cause the economic crisis as well, we were just the only one with the size to do it.

The lecture was incredibly informative. At this point I must admit that before last night I would have been unable to explain the economic crisis to anyone who asked beyond mumbling about "subprime mortgages" and "the housing bubble." After last night's talk I feel I have a much better understanding about what happened to cause the economic crisis but unfortunatly, like everyone else, I'm not really any closer to understanding how to fix it.

Norberg claimed that many of the fixes being proposed and enacted now are the same kind of bad decisions that led to the original crisis, such as lowering interest rates and creating lots of liquidity in the market. He also said that by bailing out certain groups that were "too big to fail" we have created a precedent that encourages these groups to participate in the same risky deals that they were before, now safe in the knowledge that if they fail the government and tax payers will be there to bail them out.

At the end of the lecture the floor was opened up for questions and one struck me in particular as an American Studies major. The question was about how China owns a great deal of our debt and whether or not that might actually effect our sovereignty as a nation. Norberg replied that although it is true that China owns an inordinate amount of American debt, and that they are possibly calling for a second reserve currency in the world, China's status as owner of so much US debt actually creates for them a vested interest in American economic success. As he put if "If you owe the bank a hundred dollars, you have a problem, if you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank has a problem."

Overall the lecture was a great way to kick-off the new academic year and I look forward to more stimulating discussions and lectures as the semester progresses and, of course, blogging about it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jury duty is grand

When I mention that I’m in the midst of four weeks of jury duty, most people respond by offering their condolences. But it’s really been interesting, believe it or not! Of course, it hasn’t come at the best time, what with a new baby in the house and classes starting this week. However, so far the experience has taught me a lot about our legal system, and given me more faith than I had before in the idea that a randomly chosen set of people can actually work together to figure out what’s right in a complex situation.

What I’m on is a grand jury, which is very different from a regular trial (or petit—pronounced with hard t’s, even though it’s originally a French word) jury. And we’re all sworn to secrecy about our proceedings, so I can’t say anything about specific cases. I will, though, blog over the next couple of weeks about the experience, being careful not to reveal anything even vaguely confidential.

Today I just want to write a bit about an aspect of the grand jury experience that connects to American Studies. Really. First, a bit of explanation of what a grand jury does. We don’t decide whether people are guilty or innocent. And we’re not a high-profile grand jury dealing with a single, complex, major crime. (One day we showed up last week and there were television trucks filling the parking lot across the street. Turned out they were there to cover Plaxico Burress’s guilty plea). In New York State, every felony charge has to be vetted by a grand jury before it can go to trial. So what we get is an assistant district attorney coming before us, with perhaps a couple of witnesses and documents, just enough to convince us that the case has sufficient plausibility to make it worth taking to trial. We don’t hear from the defense at all, and we don’t have to be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt.

At the end of every presentation, the Assistant D.A. “instructs us in the law.” S/he does that by reading the law that the defendant has allegedly broken. What’s interesting is that s/he then has to read us the “underlying definitions” of every term in the law. In the first few trials, this was very time-consuming. Then, over time, they would start saying “I understand you’ve been instructed on the underlying definitions of ‘larceny’ ‘dangerous weapon’ and ‘motor vehicle,’” and unless one of us on the jury wants to hear those definitions again, we can move on.

Now for the American Studies part. One day an ADA had to define “property,” and it hit me that that’s a word that has an entry in, yes, Keywords for American Cultural Studies, which all Fordham American Studies students at this point have encountered in at least one course. It turns out that the kind of knowledge that’s required to decide whether or not to indict someone necessitates that we think hard about the meanings of the words that make up the laws. And the meanings are often very specific to the law, and not very commonsensical. For example, you might think you don’t need to provide an underlying definition of “building.” But in the New York State penal code, “building” is defined to include a motor vehicle used for business, so that if someone burglarizes, say, an ice cream truck, the law is the same as if they burglarize an ice cream store. So, the words that need “underlying definitions” are complex words, like the keywords in the book.

My analogy only goes so far, of course. In our jury room, the ADA is providing definitions so as to pin down, or fix, the meaning of the word, to try to prevent us from thinking about other possible meanings. In a Keywords book, the point is almost the opposite: to be aware of the wide range of meanings a single word can have; to think about the tensions and contradictions within a single meaning or between different meanings; to recognize that different people mean different things by the same word, and to figure out which meanings are active in a particular instance when the word is used.

The ADAs definitely don’t want us to think about all that. But sometimes, in fact, we do, and it makes a difference. Again, I can’t go into any details, but I will say that one day we jurors had a long, rich, and interesting discussion of the meaning of the word “intentional.” That’s not a word in the Keywords book, but it could be. Again avoiding specifics, I can say that our different opinions about the meaning of that one word made a big difference in whether that defendant got indicted that day or not.

So that’s one reason I think grand jury duty is interesting: it raises some of the same issues I’m interested in discussing in my American Studies classes. There are other reasons, too, which maybe I can talk about in another posting sometime.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The American Studies Experience

We, students, are frequently asked by our friends, family members, co-workers, etc., what our college major is. Whenever I tell people I’m an American Studies major, I either get puzzled faces staring back at me, or responses such as, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” Explaining the major in detail, as well as the wide range of careers it can prepare one for (not only teaching), usually takes some time.

Though the American Studies major doesn’t seem to be too popular, it should be! It allows people like myself (who tend to be indecisive, and sometimes scatter-brained) to avoid having to take 36 credits in just one academic discipline. The interdisciplinary approach allows students to learn about our country from a multitude of angles. American studies majors are never bored!

While the program as a whole is broad in scope, each major is required to choose a specific thesis topic. I am just beginning this exciting, yet challenging, process!

I am very interested in the arts, predominantly music and dance, and am therefore considering doing my thesis in that field. I am also fascinated by the cultural diversity of the United States, and more specifically, New York City.

I have been reading about the development of various ethnic musical genres in the US, such as Latin-jazz, mambo, salsa, merengue, samba, and reggae. I am intrigued by the relationship between these genres and immigrant self-identity. I look forward to further researching the styles’ transnational influences as they flow across geographic boundaries.

In addition to the three required American Studies classes I am taking this semester, the music class I am taking at the Rose Hill campus, “Feeling the Funk,” will certainly supplement my research.

I am very excited to meet new American Studies majors this year and learn about their interests. I’m sure this year will be a rewarding one!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fordham American Studies in Fall 2009

This will be another exciting year for Fordham's American Studies program. Yes, we're launching this blog (more on that in another posting), but right now just let me talk about what's happening in the curriculum.

1) We're continuing the process of making American Studies a two-campus program by offering the major at both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses. This fall, for the first time, the introductory course "Major Developments in American Culture" will be offered on the Lincoln Center campus, taught by Professor James Fisher, of the Theology department and the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies The course will of course continue to be taught at Rose Hill. In spring 2010 it will again be taught by Professor Roberta Gold of the History Department.

2) The junior seminar, "Approaches to American Studies," will for the second year focus on the theme of "technology," and be taught by me.

3) The senior seminar--creatively titled "The Senior Seminar"--is the capstone experience for American Studies majors. That's where they write their theses, and at the end of the semester they do a presentation of their research that for me is the best day of the year. This fall its theme is "Race and Youth Culture," and it's being co-taught by Professor James Kim of the English Department and Professor Oneka LaBennett of the Department of African and African American Studies, who is also Research Director of the Bronx African American History Project. I got an advance look at their syllabus, and the course looks very exciting--I wish I could take it myself!

Well, that's just some basic news to get this blog going. My future postings will alternate between the informative and the opinionated, I'm sure. And soon there will be more voices here, both student and faculty.