May 22, 2019
Pauline Reynolds, Jesse Perez Mendez & Angela Clark-Taylor
We (Pauline, Jesse, and Angela) love popular culture. And, popular culture loves higher education. Copious movies, tv shows, comic books, and other cultural artifacts use higher education settings and characters for their narratives. Aligned with cultural theories, these narratives influence how people think about, react to, and interact with higher education but higher ed scholars typically don’t pay too much attention to the messaging embedded in those narratives. As scholars, the three of us think that understanding those messages is critical for professional practice in higher education and student affairs - to ensure that we reveal and counter problematic misrepresentations, and, to make sure that we don’t replicate misrepresentations in our own practice. For this work, we were intrigued by the dissonance between a real higher ed context of numerous and increasing successes for college women, that has been vilified in news media as being at the expense of college men (Yakaboski, 2011), with a pop culture context where women were often minimized. The cast and storylines for Greek split the narratives fairly equally between the fraternity and sorority characters and college women are an important part of the TV show so it provided a good cultural case study to examine just how college women were represented within the cultural climate revealed by Yakaboski.
Yakaboski, T. (2011). "Quietly stripping the pastels": The undergraduate gender gap. The Review of Higher Education, 34(4), 555-580.
This qualitative study utilizes feminist media analysis to examine the depiction of college women in the U.S. TV show Greek. Overall women engage in and graduate from higher education at rates greater than men, but representations of higher education in popular culture tend to minimize women’s intellectual engagement within the academy. Our findings focus on two themes emerging from our analysis: that of the show’s depiction of college women as “intellectual-lite” through portrayals of their limited and stereotypical interests, and their depictions as “knowers,” portrayed through the ways they make sense of college and how they engage in it. As artifacts of popular culture, such as TV shows, provide templates of college student identity and behaviors for viewers, we close with recommendations to challenge continuing misrepresentations within personal and institutional practice in higher education by suggesting ways to recognize and counter these messages.
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