Welcome to the Loyola University Newsroom

Print this page

From gangsta rap to activism, seminars broaden first-year students' experience

Loyola press release - December 14, 2009

What do Nine Inch Nails, Bread and Puppet Theatre, mimes and Bob Dylan all have in common? They are topics of study in First-Year Experience classes offered at Loyola University New Orleans this semester.

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.

The classes offered this semester are providing students the opportunity to take part in unique classroom experiences, as well as co-curricular events, field trips, dinners, films and other social gatherings.

“Crank the Volume: Where are the New Marleys and Lennons?,” and “Music Against Music: Music in the Internet Age” are some of the other class topics of “Protest and Pop Music,” taught by Robert Bell, instructor of English in the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences.

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.”

“Performing Activism.” taught by assistant professor Laura Hope in the department of Theatre Arts and Dance, explores how theatre and performance can be used as a tool of social justice and activism. The class also discusses how artists, politicians, community activists and even nations use “performance” as a tool of propaganda, activism, coercion and dissent.

The students in the class are creating and presenting projects in the styles and themes of the artists being studied, including the Black Arts Movement writer Amiri Baraka and Brazilian artist and activist Augusto Boal.

Although “Performing Activism” falls outside the course of study for Max Welch, a music composition major, the course is a fit for him personally since he enjoys acting, playwriting and directing.

For the class group project, Welch and his group wrote and performed a short scene using the methods of the activist theatre group, The San Francisco Mime Troupe, who began using theatre in the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War.

“It was a delightful test of cooperation and organization with a pleasant element of creativity,” said Welch. “I am learning methods people use to make a difference in their communities, whether it is a good or bad difference, or if the community is a small town or the entire world.”

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.