Student ExCo Teachers Aim to Fill Academic Voids

Rebecca Cohen

Talented Obies are gearing up to lead their peers through the discovery of art forms and media genres in several new ExCos offered this semester. Several teachers — or facilitators, as some preferred to be called — expressed a desire not only to share their passion and knowledge with classmates but also to foster communities surrounding their topics of interest.

Strong quee rand feminist-oriented themes connect several new courses, including Women and Television; GraphEx: An Exploration of Graphic Narratives (with a focus on artists and creators who are women and/or trans); Experimental Feminist Film; and Queer Women OnScreen. College senior Anne Buckwalter wants to expose her peers to comic books written by women and trans individuals while asking students to keep a daily drawing log to get into the practice of creating regularly.

A Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies major, Buckwalter discovered in comic-writing a medium that offered a high level of freedom to experiment with how queer identities can be visually represented. She finds it challenging yet valuable to condense verbal stories into bite-sized bodies of text to accompany images. “The combination of words and images can be really powerful. … If you draw someone in a comic, you can make their gender ambiguous. You don’t have to use a pronoun for them,” she said. We are constantly bombarded with digital images or videos of human bodies in everyday life; in comics, characters retain their dynamic qualities while remaining stationary.

Buckwalter emphasized the accessibility of GraphEx. “You do not have to be good at drawing or art in order to draw comics,” Buckwalter said. “They don’t have to be funny either — they can be about your life, about a hippo, about sad things.”

College sophomore Sophie Miller has a glint in her eye when she talks about television, especially if women are in charge of its production. Each week in her Women and Television ExCo, students will watch shows written or created by a woman and discuss how the series portrays women in comparison to shows not written or directed by women. They will discuss critical paradigms such as the Bechdel test, a method that feminist critics use to acknowledge misogyny in media. The test asks whether a work contains a scene where at least two women talk to each other about something other than men. Many films and television shows do not meet these requirements.

Miller will ask her students to consider how well the female-identifying characters they see on-screen exemplify three-dimensional, relatable and intelligent personas who act, feel and think independently of the men in their lives. Miller also hopes to challenge students to look beyond preconceptions or judgments they may harbor toward certain personalities or genres in order to celebrate and learn from each woman’s successful career in a historically white and male-dominated industry. By establishing a structured yet fun atmosphere to talk about TV with a critical eye, she hopes to expose herself and fellow students to women who haven’t been afraid — to enter and perhaps dominate — the writer’s room.

College seniors Kaïa Austin and Gracie Goodman are also paying homage to their roots as explorers of feminist and queer media during their early college years, during which they searched for a community where they could meet likeminded people. Having met in The F-Word, an ExCo focused on feminism they took their first year, Austin and Goodman now want to continue fostering a safe but challenging environment. They will offer a student-run discussion space built upon community agreements that prioritizes how students respond emotionally to the subject matter.

The group will discuss themes and stereotypes the media has recently perpetuated about queer women and femmes. “This is an ExCo that I wanted to take as a freshman that didn’t exist,” Goodman said. “So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I taught it myself with my best friend?”

Other ExCos look to fulfill what their instructors see as an academic need. “We’re filling what feels like a void,” said College junior Rob Jamner, who is coteaching Songwriting Workshop, a space where aspiring musicians can share skills and make connections for future musical collaborations. “There’s the Jazz department, there are poetry classes, Music Theory and small ensembles, but there wasn’t that center.”

His co-teacher, College junior Brendan Eprile, has had experience interning at an independent record label and as a personal assistant for a band in Brooklyn. “It’s about time there’s a class for this,” he said. “[Songwriting is] not [treated as] an academic field. … It’s on the side — just for fun. I think it’s kind of a shame.” He intends to share his thoughts about entering the “real” world in terms of self-presentation, professionalism and navigating the music industry with ExCo students. Songwriting can be collaborative, and the two hope to foster such an atmosphere by hosting co-writing parties, inviting guest songwriters and searching for more performance opportunities on campus for members of the ExCo and the Oberlin Songwriters.

SixCo, named after the six-second limitation of the video genre it focuses on, will attempt to take a practical look at Vine videos. Aspiring filmmakers and bloggers can encapsulate plenty of drama, wit or artistic nuance in six and a half seconds. The beauty of the app, according to teacher and College junior Sol Solomon, is the instant gratification of a short looping clip, as well as the unbiased subjectivity of the forum, which does not censor content. This creates a space where everyone, from activists to commercial advertisers to comedians, finds a medium for expression. Students will read scholarly writing about the current media landscape as well as historic cinematic theory. They’ll also watch at least a 100 Vines — which adds up to only 10 minutes in total — and produce three Vines per week. Solomon said she hopes critical discussions about pop culture trends like Vine will help balance out the lack of a new media requirement in the Cinema Studies curriculum. The new art ExCos open up opportunities for students to explore unconventional subjects and quirky passions, creating unique communities.