It’s spring 2014.
What better time to talk about the 2016 presidential election.
It’s about 19 months before the first primary and more than two years before the electorate will cast its vote to determine President Obama’s successor. However, things are heating up already.
Will Hillary Clinton seek the Democratic nomination? What about Joe Biden? Are there other contenders?
And what about the Republicans? Can Chris Christie overcome his troubles? Will the GOP cast their lot with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or someone else.
Meanwhile, in the Empire State, Gov. Cuomo is up for re-election this November. The Republicans have not fielded a strong contender since George Pataki. Will they this time around?
And then there’s the mid-term elections. Can the GOP take the Senate?
Associate Professor of History Chris Leahy sorts it all out in this interview with Doug Lippincott, which aired recently on WFLR’s Keuka College Today.
When senior Lauren Piampiano registered for the special topics SOC 295 Popular Culture class, she thought she would find the material interesting.
Piampiano discovered that while her initial expectations of the class, offered for the first time last fall and taught by Assistant Porfessor of Sociology Athena Elafros, proved to be true, she learned more than she anticipated.
“I took this class because I wanted to be informed on the functions and critical theories regarding popular culture,” said Piampiano, a sociology major from Webster. “It can be important in a variety of career settings, namely the social service field. This class analyzed and helped me better understanding popular culture, a prominent aspect of our society. It also examined some deep topics that are often thought-provoking and introspective.”
Sophomore Kayla Kuntz agrees.
“I enjoy talking about current events, and popular culture greatly affects my age group,” said Kuntz, an exploratory major from Manlius. “But I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the meanings of these events. What I have learned has been much more in depth and analytic than I expected. This is a good thing.”
And that is exactly what Elafros intended.
“While most of the students in the class are sociology majors and have a solid background in sociological analyses,” she said. “I wanted to teach a class on popular culture to provide students with the analysis and problem-solving skills needed to be critical media consumers. Popular culture acts as a lens that reflects the changing norms and values in society and it also can be used as a tool to shape and promote social change in society.”
According to senior Samantha Yavorek, a psychology and sociology major from Canandaigua, the class focused on “learning about different forms of popular culture and how it is represented in the media, as well as how it shapes our society and the individuals in it. But we also learned about the endless genres of popular culture and how they are relative to society.”
Elafros covered a wide variety of popular culture topics in the class, including Miley Cyrus’ music video for Wrecking Ball; twerking; Riot Grrrl; memes; Bruce Lee films; and World Wrestling Entertainment.
“We also discussed Star Trek; The Walking Dead; bronnies; Fedoras; Pogs; sexism and advertising; women’s magazines; Public Enemy; the Eurythmics; trucker hats; skinny jeans; Ugg boots; Mardi Gras beads; Star Wars; Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines music video; and football, among many other examples.”
Senior Karina Cochran, a sociology major from Cortland, said “popular culture is one of those influences that affects everyone’s life, while going largely unnoticed. I think it is important to learn about factors that contribute to our culture and our sense of self. And, I have absolutely benefited from learning how to conceptualize and better understand popular culture.”
Because of this class, sophomore Thomas Fowler now thinks more about what he sees and reads and questions it.
“I no longer see something in the media and turn a blind eye and say ‘oh whatever’ or ‘no big deal,’” said the sociology and political science and history major from Batavia. “I believe it makes me a better person to question popular culture and try to better understand what I am being shown in the media.”
And Fowler isn’t the only one in the class who now questions what he sees.
“Many of the students have mentioned that this class opened their eyes to the ways in which the mass media manipulate our desires and emotions,” said Elafros. “For example, many of the women in the class have told me they can’t look at women’s magazines without seeing them from a critical perspective. Once you understand the sociological perspective, it fundamentally changes how you view the world around you.”
And for Yavorek and Kuntz, the perceptions of popular culture they had before taking this class have changed.
Yavoerk is now “analytical of every ad I come across,” while Kuntz believes she has “a better understanding of current events and why they have the impact they do.” But Cochran’s perceptions “have not changed drastically, as I have always held somewhat of a feminist and critical outlook toward it.”
After taking this class, Elafros hopes “that students can become critical consumers of popular culture and the media. Given that we are immersed in popular culture on a daily basis, I want students to be actively engaging and critiquing it instead of passively consuming it. This was a special topics course and it is not currently being offered. If there is enough student interest, I would love to be able to teach the course again.”
According to Yavorek, this class was fun to complete work for because it consistently maintained her interest.
“It is one of the classes that I found most directly applied to occurrences in my everyday life for my generation at this time,” she said. “Sociology has done a great job of teaching me how to look at things through a critical lens, and understand as well as analyze how concepts such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and even personality are shaped through social interaction and socialization.”
Should Elafros have the opportunity to teach the class again, she is not sure what material she would cover, because “whatever is current and happening within society will be the subject matter of the course. For example, if I was currently teaching the course, I would definitely focus on the Olympics. So it all depends on when I next get to teach the course and what new trends are happening.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series of Q&As with new, full-time faculty members. Today, meet three of Keuka’s new additions.
Dr. David Pak Leon, assistant professor of political science, teaches International Relations, Political Development in Asia, and Globalization.
Last book read: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.
Favorite quote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” by George Orwell.
If you could be a fictional character, who would be and why? I can’t really think of a fictional character that I would like to be.
What makes teaching fun? It is always fun and interesting when I see students grow in knowledge throughout a semester. I enjoy lively discussions in and outside the classroom when different perspectives are presented. It is also nice when students tell me what they are learning and reading on their own, or when they bring in relevant outside materials or their own experiences that enrich our collective understanding of different issues. Seeing eager and engaged students makes teaching rewarding.
What do you do for fun? I enjoy listening to music and reading (politics, history, architecture, economics, and finance). I like browsing bookstores and antique shops, and biking.
Sunny Winstead of Burdett, N.Y., assistant professor of occupational therapy, is teaching classes in occupational therapy assessment and intervention for older adults.
Last book read: Other than a textbook? Maybe a Ruth Rendell mystery, but unfortunately it’s been awhile!
Favorite quote: You’ll never be sorry for taking the high road.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be, and why? Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books. She’s smart, inventive, and brave. Plus, I’d love to have a Time-Turner so I could be in two places at once!
What makes teaching fun? Collaborating with students and seeing their confidence grow as they move toward clinical practice.
What do you do for fun? I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, gardening, and hiking.
Dr. Jason McKinney of Penfield, assistant professor of social work, is teaching a number of classes this year, including Youth Services Delivery, Research Methods, Ethics and Diversity, and Field Practicum.
Last book read: Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, by Scott Jurek.
Favorite quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be, and why?:Cookie Monster. I wish I could eat junk food all day and never gain a pound!
What makes teaching fun? Students make teaching fun! I love the interactive part of teaching, such as class discussion or learning activities designed to connect theory and practice.
What do you do for fun? I play guitar, ukulele, and percussion. I run, garden, lift weights, and study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Coming Monday: Three more Q&A profiles of new, full-time faculty members.
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members who have joined the Keuka community.
According to Athena Elafros, sociology is most relevant when it engages students’ personal and professional interests in the society around them, and when it develops their analytical tools for criticism.
The assistant professor of sociology says “the opportunity to facilitate students’ engagements with sociology—as they break down sociological concepts and theories and apply them to situations in their daily lives—is one of the most rewarding and intellectually stimulating aspects of academia.”
In fact, teaching is one of the things that excites the Toronto native most as a sociologist. Prior to arriving at Keuka College, Elafros taught courses at McMaster University (Canada) and Alfred University. At Keuka, she teaches Introduction to Sociology and Ethnic Diversity.
“As a first-generation college student born to immigrant parents, I welcome the opportunity to work with, and educate, other first-generation college students,” said Elafros, who received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminology from the University of Toronto, master’s degree in sociology from Queen’s University (Canada), and doctoral degree in sociology from McMaster University. “They are a delight to teach and possess a wealth of first-hand knowledge about the social world. The challenge is to teach them how to draw on this knowledge in a way that promotes critical thinking in the classroom.”
One way she meets that challenge is by employing a variety of popular cultural examples in the classroom, including YouTube and movie clips, memes, music videos, and documentaries.
For Elafros, the biggest draw to Keuka is its students. But she also “likes the College’s small classroom sizes, the impressive employment rate, the excellent student to faculty ratio, and the College’s commitment to accessibility.”
Elafros is also “deeply impressed” with the experiential education opportunities offered to students.
“I believe that the emphasis on experiential education makes Keuka College unique and I am excited to be part of a college that encourages lifelong learning in and out of the classroom,” said Elafros.
For example, Elafros has taken advantage of the TeamWorks! program.
“I have been in contact with [Assistant Manager of TeamWorks!] Molly McGuigan ’11 and have invited her to come to my classes,” she said. “I look forward to further developing and refining a TeamWorks! program for all of my sociology courses, so that students can develop skills in team building, as well as interpersonal and leadership skills that will benefit them regardless of their career path.”
“I am also drawn to Keuka College because of the quality of life in the region,” said Elafros. “The Finger Lakes region is one of the most beautiful areas in New York state and I welcome the opportunity to be able to live and work here. Additionally, my husband is a historian at Alfred University, so it is wonderful to be able to settle down in the region.”
One thing Elafros wants her students to remember from her classes is how to empathize with others.
“We all have different backgrounds and experiences that shape our personal world views,” said Elafros. “What I teach my students is how to try and connect with others whose perspectives might be quite different from their own. This allows them to effectively communicate with others by understanding their motivations.”
Elafros says this does not mean that you have to agree with those motivations, “but you must be able to see their perspectives so that you can effectively work with them. By empathizing with others, understanding their perspectives, and communicating with them, you will be able to thrive and succeed in a variety of diverse work environments.”
She has published on a variety of subjects, including hip hop culture, popular music magazines, and gay-straight alliances in such publications as Popular Music and Society, Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne de Sociologie, and Cultural Sociology.
Her research has also been published in Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music and Culture, and Race/Gender/Class/Media 3.0: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers.
Joyce Richardson’s path to a Keuka College degree began in 1983.
It will end Sunday, when the Stanley resident receives her Bachelor of Science degree in criminology/criminal justice.
And while it took the mother of two and grandmother of four nearly three decades to do what her classmates did in four years, she is the envy of some of her fellow members of the Class of 2012.
“A couple of weeks ago, I was offered a job as an investigator with the Ontario County Public Defender’s Office, where I completed my senior internship,” said Richardson. “That is what makes Keuka so great. Instead of a 20-minute job interview, I had the chance to have a four-month interview. I would not have gotten this job without my senior internship.”