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Beyonce Course 'Not a Fluff Class,' UIC Instructor Says

By Kyla Gardner | January 29, 2015 5:50am
 Beyonce performs at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards in August.
Beyonce performs at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards in August.
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Michael Buckner/Getty Images

CHICAGO — The instructor teaching a course on Beyoncé and feminism at the University of Illinois at Chicago said her curriculum is not "fluff."

Now in its third week at UIC,  Jennifer Richardson's "Beyoncé: Critical Feminist Perspectives and U.S. Black Womanhood," attracted media attention — and critics who claim pop culture has no place in higher education.

"According to some people, we are having a party here and this is just a Beyoncé fan club," she said. "We're not listening to Beyoncé lyrics and psychoanalyzing them."

Richardson said Beyoncé, as one of the biggest superstars in the world, attracts a lot of criticism, so of course, the news of a class centering on her would as well.

"Beyoncé is this polarizing force around: 'Is she a feminist or is she not?' and other people being like, 'Who cares?'" she said. "It speaks to Beyoncé as a political force ... and it also speaks to people's disregard for feminism in general."

Special topics courses at UIC usually attract about half of their possible enrollment, but the Beyoncé course has 34 of 40 students enrolled. Recently, many students have emailed her to ask to audit it — taking the course but not receiving credit — Richardson said.

Using Beyoncé as the focus of the class — which looks at what it means to be a black woman in America, and how the media portrays and defines "black womanhood" — was strategic on her part, Richardson said.

"We could talk about Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Nicki Minaj, Shonda Rhimes, but I'm able to trick a whole lot more students into learning about black feminism by using Beyoncé than I would by using Michelle Obama," Richardson laughed.

Richardson said she wanted to teach the course after being a part of a hugely successful Café Society panel about "Scandal" and Olivia Pope for the Illinois Humanities Council. The course isn't the first of its kind, as Rutgers offers "Politicizing Beyoncé."

And just because Queen Bey's name is in the title doesn't mean the course is revolutionary in the liberal arts.

Entire disciplines and fields of study have looked at the questions Richardson's students are looking at in "Beyoncé: Critical Feminist Perspectives," she said.

"The debate over ethnic studies, gender women's studies, cultural studies, media studies, whether it is relevant and rigorous enough or not — it's an old debate, and we won it a long time ago," Richardson said. "There's clear value in it."

But if you really need proof, her 34 students read a minimum of 100 pages a week, and turn in five-page essays every two weeks.

"They're working their butts off," she said. "This is not a fluff class."

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