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From gangsta rap to English ballads, students dig deeper into protest music

December 11, 2009

Loyola student Kristen Diaz works with a student at Sojourner Truth Academy.

“Crank the Volume: Where are the New Marleys and Lennons?,” “Music Against Music: Music in the Internet Age” and “Politician or Pop Star?” These are all class topics of the First-Year Seminar, Protest and Pop Music, taught by Robert Bell, director of Writing Across the Curriculum and instructor of English in the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences.

As part of its mission to educate the whole person, Loyola University New Orleans has implemented a program of seminars for all first-year students. The seminars are special-topics courses conducted by leading Loyola faculty. All are small classes grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and an exploration of values. They provide unique classroom experiences, as well as co-curricular events, field trips, dinners, films and other social gatherings.

This semester, Bell’s course looks at the intersection of popular music and politics. From the earliest English ballads to today’s hip-hop hits, protest music has played a central thematic role in popular culture. Through Bell’s instruction, guest lecturers and service learning, the class explores the historical context of different time periods, songs and artists, and shows how something apparently as benign as pop music actually expresses an underlying political dimension and identity.

Students in the class have been working with 10th graders in a second-year art class at Sojourner Truth Academy, an open-enrollment charter school in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, teaching them about musical genres and the role of music in highlighting issues in society. In September, the Sojourner students attended class at Loyola, and in October, Loyola students presented a Power Point at Sojourner that showed the high schoolers how music can make a difference in peoples’ lives.

“I think Bell’s students get the benefit of deeper learning by having to prepare the presentation themselves,” said Kelly Brotzman, Loyola’s director of service learning, “but it also exposes the Sojourner students to college students and helps them visualize how art and music can be forms of social protest.”

“The class is a lot of work, a lot of reading, actually, but it’s really fun. It’s largely participation-based and that makes everything a lot more entertaining because we get to see what everyone else has to say and there are so many different opinions,” says Dominic Cust, one of Bell’s students. “Most arguments, even on music, aren’t just two-sided. They can be three, four, or five-sided and it’s great to hear all the viewpoints.”

According to Cust, the First-Year Experience is a great way to get acclimated to college classes.

“In high school, everything was really typical: math, English, Spanish, etc. Here, the classes are varied. This class is just one of the many classes offered at Loyola that are unique, not just to college, but solely to Loyola.”

Melanie McKay, Ph.D., vice provost for faculty affairs, sees the seminar experience as a tool for students to use to approach learning in all of their classes.

“A liberal arts education teaches students to synthesize knowledge from different subject areas and to reflect critically on facts and ideas. These seminars help our first-year students begin that process,” says McKay.

For more information on the FYE, contact James Shields in the Office of Public Affairs at 504-861-5888 or jshields@loyno.edu.

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Loyola at a Glance is written and distributed for the faculty, staff, students and friends of Loyola University New Orleans. It is published by the Office of Public Affairs, Greenville Hall, Box 909, 7214 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118. (504) 861-5888.

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