Why Black Media Studies classes matter

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

The recent approval of Tech’s Black Media Studies minor, a program made up of many classes I have taken through my own LMC degree program, has let me reflect on the immense impact those classes have had on me. 

Prior to coming to Tech my required reading repertoire was dominated by the works of white men who primarily wrote about the traumas of war.

Only one of the books studied throughout my four years in my high school honors and AP Literature classes was written by a Black person: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston’s celebration of female femininity and sexuality was the first literature I really felt connected to as I sifted through the slew of Hemingway, Salinger and Frost I was forced to work my way through. 

My bookshelf is increasingly more diverse since coming to college and I have the professors of the LMC department, and specifically the Black Media Studies professors to thank for that. 

When I came to Tech, I chose to pursue a social justice thread within my major because I knew coming from a conservative high school that I had a lot of catching up to do. 

For context, when I was transplanted to Winder, GA in the eighth grade, I attended a middle school named after former Georgia governor Richard B. Russell Jr. He authored the Southern Manifesto and filibustered civil rights legislation during his time as a senator. 

You may ask, what what did I learn about this man who aggressively advocated for racial segregation during my social studies classes? I learned all about how he helped strengthen our military by bringing more bases to the state, with his racist legacy swept under the rug for me to uncover many years later on my own. 

My first exposure to Black Media Studies from an Intro to Gender Studies class during my second year. It was taught by Dr. Susana Morris, a feminist and Afrofuturism scholar who has since then held the coveted spot in my life of being my favorite professor of all time. 

This was not your normal gender studies class, it was a gender studies class taught through a science fiction lense, which provided for unique opportunities to decipher gender in fictional worlds where the bounds of the gender binary are pushed by alien species. 

Since that summer, I have attempted to take every class Dr. Morris has to offer, including African American Literature and Media, Culture and Society. 

I also managed to slip in a class with Dr. Joycelyn Wilson, Tech’s renowned Hip Hop Culture expert. Coming to the end of my Tech career, I can safely say that my Black Media Studies classes had the biggest impact on my education and have greatly influenced the way I look at the world. 

From analyzing the ways news outlets covered the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas testimonies in the 90s, to diving deep into the poetic ways hip hop artists depicted class struggles, to learning about how modern gynecology was built on the backs of exploited Black women, Black Media Studies has shown me a world I would never have known about had I not gone out of my way to take social justice oriented classes. 

Without understanding intersectionality, I would not be able to confidently go into the professional world after graduation and ensure that I am doing everything in my power to make decisions that take into account the impact they will have on people that don’t look like me. 

What excites me about this Black Media Studies minor coming to fruition is the access the minor will provide for students outside of the LMC major to experience the classes that have taught me the most. 

What terrifies me is that students may not see the merit of minoring in Black Media Studies. 

Tech is sending thousands of students out into the world every semester that have had minimal interaction with a proper ethics or social justice education. 

We are sending mechanical engineers into the world that are designing robots to automate the ways rural minority farmers make a living. We are sending future doctors into the world who do not understand the nuances of medical misogyny, racism and fatphobia and how their intersections lead to Black women experiencing three times higher maternal mortality than white women. We are sending people in the world that still question why Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize, ignoring the deeper messages in his culturally significant snapshot of modern American Black life. 

The Institute touts the “progress and service” of our engineering students while favoring teaching equations over equality. 

This mindset is reinforced by many students outside of the liberal arts college refusing to think critically about anything that is happening outside of the confines of this campus. 

The roots of the Civil Rights Movement are just down the street from our Institute, yet many students will never interact with the rich history and cultural currency Atlanta has to offer because they are too busy stressing out over heat transfer and differential calculus.

I strongly urge any student reading this to minor in Black Media Studies. If you do not have the time or credits to do so, use one of your humanities or free elective credits to take at least one class from some of the most brilliant professors Tech has to offer. 

I am tired of sitting through registration every semester and watching STEM students ask around for the easiest humanities class to take. Stop looking for “easy A’s” and taking “history of chairs” because you are afraid of your worldview being challenged. 

Tucked away on the third floor of the Skiles is an education opportunity that will easily supplement any major here in incredible ways and I sincerely hope to see more students take advantage of it.