Professor teaches gender studies through Beyoncé course
Kevin Allred was surprised to see his women’s and gender studies course receive attention from multiple media sources last week even though the course already finished.
Allred, a teaching assistant in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, said this one-time course, “Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé,” was offered last semester and gave students a deeper perspective into singer Beyoncé Knowles and her alter ego, Sasha Fierce.
Allred, who chose the topic himself, said the course intended to give students a better understanding of celebrities’ influence on race, gender and sexual politics, focusing on how the celebrity’s understanding of the world can bring difficulties to the way people view certain aspects of society.
“I’m interested in the line that Beyoncé walks between coercion and consent in her public image and the ways that she often imagines categories of race, sexuality and gender that complicate the ways we typically understand those categories,” Allred said.
Topics in the course extended past Beyoncé’s beauty into a study of whether her partially nude photos are empowering or stereotypical, according Rutgers FOCUS. The class also concentrated on her alter ego Sasha Fierce, with discussions leading to the mention of other musical artists like Lady Gaga and Adele.
“She certainly pushes boundaries,” Allred told FOCUS. “While other artists are simply releasing music, she’s creating a grand narrative around her life, her career and her persona.”
Although the “Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé” is not being offered this semester, it has led to the idea of developing other courses that have a central focus around a celebrity, he said.
“I would also jump at the chance to create another class centered around a celebrity,” Allred said. “I think [singer] Nina Simone would be particularly interesting to spend a whole semester on, as a celebrity who is no longer with us. Kanye West could also prove extremely interesting.”
Teaching courses on a single celebrity is becoming a part of the curriculum at schools like Georgetown University, which offers the “Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z,” according to Georgetown’s website.
“It really shows the influence that [Beyoncé and Jay-Z] have over American pop culture and the entire discourse that college kids relate to these days,” Allred said. “I think it also points out that teachers are turning to innovative methods to link theory and critical thinking to current [people].”
Mona Elgindy, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she believes teaching a course on celebrities could be beneficial.
“I agree with [Beyoncé] having an impact on society to an extent, yet I feel like they shouldn’t have one class centered around one specific celebrity but rather celebrities in general — a class on celebrity culture,” Elgindy said.
Andrea Fawzy, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said celebrities have a place in academia.
“Whether it be a doctor or a politician or a musical artist, we study them,” she said. “Everyone has a different idea of who’s better to study.”
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