In one of the best surprises since Beyoncé’s album dropped, UT students next semester can take “Beyonce Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” a class focusing on the queen herself in addition to Rihanna, pop culture’s favorite bad girl.
“Beyonce Feminism, Rihanna Womanism” is cross-listed as an African and African diaspora studies and a women’s and gender studies course, with the expectation that students are able to conduct scholarly analyses on these pop-culture figures.
But on a campus like UT, there are still many opportunities to engage with these topics for students who are unable to enroll in the course. UT has been offering discussions about Beyoncé’s brand of feminism since before Beyoncé herself.
“An issue that we have with courses like this is that people don’t think they’re very rigorous and don’t regard pop culture as critical,” said Nia Crosley, undergraduate adviser for the African and African diaspora studies department. “Part of black studies in general is justifying that this is a legitimate field of study.”
Crosley said professors and advisers for both departments make it a priority to fuel discussions regarding feminism, black feminism and black queer theory so students are pushed to think about the topics in their daily lives.
“I think one of the special things about the [African and African diaspora studies] department is that we have so many faculty that are clued in to this vibrant community of activist scholars who are interested in this very critical field of study — which is race, gender and sexuality theory, which includes feminist theory, black feminist theory [and] queer theory,” Crosley said.
Other courses that contain similar content, according to Crosley, are “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies,” “Black Queer Literature and Film” and “Black Women, Struggle and the Transnational State.” For a more informal setting, Crosley recommends the Malcolm X Lounge, Gender and Sexuality Center and even Tumblr as platforms for students to educate themselves at their own pace.
Liz Elsen, program and outreach coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center, helps students organize activities and discussions that will help expand their views of feminism. One such program, Feminist Friday, is held in the center every Friday at 1 p.m. So the conversations stay relevant, students choose the topics for Feminist Friday in advance.
“At the beginning of each semester, we just do a brainstorming session for the first Feminist Friday,” Elsen said. “We ask questions like, ‘What do you think feminists should be talking about?’ just to get a vibe for what people think is important. We certainly have talked about Beyoncé.”
Ixchel Rosal, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, said she sees feminism as a personal journey of sorts. She hopes students take advantage of the center and other areas, such as the Multicultural Engagement Center, to gain better insights into their own ideas and identities.
“The purpose of the [Gender and Sexuality Center] is to provide a space [for students] to explore what feminism means to them because there are many theories and tenants about feminism within feminism,” Rosal said.
The center has a library and staff who can help students get involved in discussions and provide resources for personal education. Students interested in social justice can also look into the student-led programs at the Multicultural Engagement Center, such as the Women of Color Retreat.
“You learn theory in the classroom,” Rosal said. “Then this is where you get to try it on, and it would be really great to have students from the class come.”