Georgia Tech's Technique features Black Media Studies degree


Article by Taylor Gray, originally published in The Technique


Black Twitter, the art of Hip-Hop, the O.J. Simpson trial and documentary film techniques are just some of the subjects students can learn about while earning a Black Media Studies (BMS) minor at Tech. The minor, which was recently approved by the Academic Faculty Senate, is housed in the school of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC).

The founding faculty members behind the minor include Dr. Joycelyn Wilson, Dr. Susana Morris, Dr. André Brock and Professor John Thornton. The group has worked together for the past few years to help bring the minor to life. Dr. Wilson explained that the minor was initially backed by the support of Dean Jacqueline Royster, the former Dean of the Ivan Allen College, and Dr. Richard Utz, the former LMC department chair, who helped bring in Dr. Wilson, Dr. Morris and Dr. Brock to join Professor Thornton in increasing the BMS scholar presence at Tech.

“This effort is happening at an institute college and school level,” said Wilson. “Institute level in the sense that Georgia Tech, as part of the strategic plan, has been strengthening its diversity, equity and inclusion model in tangible ways. Not just in pamphlets or just in February or anything like that, but in this industry, which is a lot of hard work. Part of that work is presence and presence in spaces that offer opportunities to not only talk about diversity, inclusion and equity, but also do it through research and we are scholars who do that in different ways.”

Once the group of founding faculty came together, the next step was to define what Black Media Studies was while carefully crafting the mission statement for the minor proposal.

“The beauty of this minor is that it gave us an opportunity to really carve out what Black Media Studies means, what it is, how you practice it, and how you understand it,” said Wilson. “We wanted to first answer the question that we were being asked. Well, what is Black Media Studies? We were being asked that by colleagues. We were being asked that outside of the school, and we wanted to let folks know okay, this is what it is. This is why we’re here…so we were able to draw our description in that proposal, fielding all of the questions that we were being asked and then just kind of tossed it amongst the four of us. We were all just kind of wordsmithing and making sure that the content was accurate, making sure we created a proposal that was damn near bulletproof because we were writing this in the midst of this anti-racism movement and in the midst of the critical race theory debacle. You know, we’re still moving forward amongst all of the stuff that’s happening around Black studies and race and racial inequities.”

With the approval from the Academic Faculty Senate, support from Dean Husbands Fealing and fellow LMC faculty members along with the behind the scenes leg work done by the Registrar’s office and other administrative offices, the BMS minor is now a reality. Dr. Morris explained that students taking classes toward the BMS minor can expect to learn how to see the world through a new critical lens that can be applied to their future careers.

“We’ve really emphasized critical thinking. We give a lot of different perspectives and it’s really about being armed with the knowledge and being able to think critically about media history, about race, class and gender and how to produce media,” said Morris. “We’re not just teaching traditional literary analysis. We’re having them do all kinds of different writing, producing, and all different kinds of end products. There’s lots of things that students can expect, but it’s hopefully learning that will translate to the boardroom, the operating room, the classroom, the courtroom..all the rooms.”

The establishment of the BMS minor at Tech joins just a handful of other similar collegiate academic programs in the United States, helping to pioneer and promote the field. Dr. Morris explained that she hopes the minor will help bring in more students from the city of Atlanta, as well as students who are looking for a more humanities based education.

“I think the Black Media Studies, along with a lot of other great majors and programs at Georgia Tech, could be a way to bring in students from the local area who might be looking like ‘well, I was gonna go to Morehouse, but maybe I’ll consider Georgia Tech.’ We could get students who might be thinking UGA over Tech, you know, because now we do have some things that are interdisciplinary and humanities focused, and that you can actually minor in even if you’re an engineering major.”

Dr. Wilson believes that the minor will be especially beneficial for engineering students who may never interact with these topics in their major course work.

“I have found that when students take the courses and they’re coming out of engineering, it really changes their perspective. Even in just that moment, it gives them an opportunity to think about the world in a more expansive way,” said Wilson. “They don’t leave our classes the way that they came in, so imagine if it’s a full-on minor. That’s why I was saying this is way bigger than the CRT argument that’s been created and that’s been politicized for an agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with what we do. I want to make that very clear. What we do is really about moving in a direction where all of us can see ourselves in these very humanistic ways beyond race, beyond culture, beyond the social constructs that have been created to divide us. And through the Black Media Studies lens, we’re able to have those conversations.”

The founding faculty members of the BMS minor hope they have created a strong, sustainable foundation for the future of intersectional education at Tech for all students.

While the classes featured in the minor have been available to LMC students for the past couple years, the minor opens up the opportunity to learn from Tech’s premier Black Media Studies academics to all majors.

“That’s really what’s so fascinating about the minor is it’s not just LMC students, this is something that’s available now, institute wide, and we wanted to make sure that if by chance we all ended up going somewhere else or retiring or whatever, that we put something in place that has the legs for other professors and scholars to take it to the next level,” said Wilson.

Students interested in minoring in BMS will tentatively be able to declare their minor as early as May 2022.

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