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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

No Program? That’s a Problem!

Updated on January 29, 2017 at 2:27 PM

Over winter break, sixteen students traveled to Los Angeles to explore the entertainment industry through the Center for Careers, Life and Services (CLS). Most of us who signed up for this experience are passionate about film and media, with a desire to contribute to this influential medium in some substantive way. In fact, forty-seven students applied to go, suggesting the wide interest at the college in this creative industry. We left the trip motivated and excited, but soon realized that even though Grinnell had given us this opportunity to make important connections in Hollywood, none of us had been provided any practical knowledge or skills to work as filmmakers because the college does not provide courses in film or video production, much less new media, sound editing, or any of the classes needed to be proficient in this multi-billion dollar industry and widely recognized art form. One alumnus even advised us to transfer or drop out of Grinnell if we were serious about film production. Unlike most of our peer institutions, and despite student interest, Grinnell does not have a film major or concentration. Although pre-professional excursions provide invaluable opportunities for building connections, these opportunities are virtually meaningless without the tangible skills a film and media curriculum should provide. Digital media skills are a vital asset for students whether they are entering the workforce or pursuing higher education so they are equipped with the media literacy to communicate and participate in the digital age.

Not only are we unprepared for the media-saturated “real world” after Grinnell, students who are serious about film studies and production as valid and meaningful academic disciplines feel disrespected by this institution. We pay ever-rising tuition, yet never see tangible benefits that reflect our real need and desire to be trained in our chosen field, such as film production classes taught by qualified professionals. A single four-week short course in video production taught by a visiting University of Iowa professor filled overnight, and students able to take that course have gone on to postgraduate study in MFA programs and a career in video production. In order to meet the academic and professional needs of students, Grinnell must commit to developing a film and media studies major on par with peer institutions. This means hiring trained scholars and artists with PhDs and/or MFAs in film and media theory and production to offer a range of courses necessary for media and social literacy as well as educating students in the specifics of a well-established academic discipline. Carleton College’s Cinema and Media Arts Department, for instance, includes a new building dedicated to media production and pedagogy, with eight highly qualified faculty members. President Steve Poskanzer of Carleton College said, “The best liberal arts education in the next generation will involve a high level of visual literacy and an understanding of the role that creativity plays in all intellectual fields and across all disciplines.” After this trip, we wonder if Grinnell College shares this perspective about the future of the liberal arts. On one hand, it has upgraded its own website with video imagery in an effort to promote the college, but on the other, it provides not a single course to enable its own students to create this very content. We do not even have a photography course on the curriculum, much less the “new” media of the moving image–which is now enjoying its 120th birthday.

The potential of film studies as an interdisciplinary path within the humanities has proven successful since it was introduced nearly a decade ago. The Expanding Knowledge Initiative (EKI), implemented to develop new areas of inquiry, led to the hire of Professor Terri Geller. Students in these courses have annually presented their papers at national conferences and been published in academic journals, fulfilling the administration’s call for more public student scholarship. Additionally, film students have gone on to edit an international academic film journal, pursue doctoral degrees at prestigious universities, win Watson fellowships, and the Baumann Prize. These successes should be recognized at the college with structural support in the form of an official major and the expansion of faculty it requires, beginning with a qualified film and video artist to lead production courses, and possibly faculty in global cinema to reflect the college’s increasing commitment to global studies.

While students committed to studying film have the option of pursuing independent majors, there are not enough courses, and the few provided are often in foreign language departments, conducted in that language. Moreover, independent majors often get cut from classes that may have the slightest relevance to their studies because of official major preferences or lack of prerequisites. Without the structural support of a department, independent majors lack the community offered by the structure of a major, a peer or alumni network that is integral for success, but also, in the case of film production, an essential need for the collaborative work required of film and video production. As a result, many students are actively transferring to peer institutions with strong media studies departments. In sum, Grinnell will continue to lose a percentage of its best students by ignoring the real demand for a substantial film and media studies program. To make our point ever more clear, this semester alone, Grinnell is offering one video short course led by a visiting artist, a course in Spanish film and literature conducted in Spanish, and a course in French film and literature conducted in French. That is it. In contrast, here are the courses offered just this semester at Macalaster College (enrollment 2172): Texts and Power: Foundations of Media and Cultural Studies (two sections); Local News Media Institutions; Film Analysis/Visual Culture; Movies of the Third Reich; New Media Theories/Practices; Photography: Theories and Practices of an International Medium; Cultures of Neoliberalism; Representing the World As It Is: Histories/Theories of Ethnographic Film; Blackness in the Media; Finding Success on the Film Festival Circuit; Advanced Seminar: Capstone on Afrofuturism. The contrast here is devastating; we’d be thrilled a quarter of these course options, and yet we do not have even that.

As a liberal arts college devoted to equipping students with intellectual knowledge and training to build successful careers and prepare us for postgraduate study, we need a film and media program supported by the college, if not out of interest for the students, then to remain at the forefront of liberal arts colleges. Before Mike Latham became our Dean of Students, he worked at Fordham University, which has a renowned communications and media studies program, which offers four different programs: Communication and Culture, Film and Television, Digital Technologies and Emerging Media, and Journalism. We encourage Dean Latham to bring his firsthand knowledge of the importance of –and demand for– media studies to our college so we can remain competitive and catch up to our peer institutions in this thriving field of study. All of our peer institutions, aside from Reed College, offer a film and media studies major with at least one film and video production faculty member to prepare students not only to produce film and video, but also to acquire employment in businesses that have increasing demand for media content–like Grinnell itself. At this moment in history, we believe it more essential than ever to have citizens literate in media studies. When a man can become president simply by being a television personality and social media bully, the ability to understand, engage, produce, and contextualize these very media is crucial.

The LA Trek was the first time we engaged with our peers who share interests in film theory and production. We witnessed the importance of building a strong community, and now we call on you, faculty, staff, alumni, and students, to sign our petition and support us in creating a film program at Grinnell.

Nora Coghlan ‘17

Melissa Fandos ‘17

Teresa Fleming ‘17

Halley Freger ‘17

Joseph Knopke ‘19

Michelle Risacher ‘17

Hanky Song ‘17





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