Dr. Lauren Gutterman Pens Essay in Slate: “Why Queer Teachers…Should Absolutely Have ‘Gay Agenda’ in Classroom”

UT AMS Assistant Professor Dr. Lauren Gutterman has authored an essay for Slate on the September, 2017 decision by a North Texas school district to remove an elementaryIMG_3740school teacher from her position for openly acknowledging her queer identity to her classroom. A parent complained that by showing her students a photograph of herself and her partner in Finding Nemo costumes, the teacher, Stacy Bailey, was promoting a “homosexual agenda.”  Dr. Gutterman places the school district’s decision in the long historical context of anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination practices throughout the mid- to late-20th Century, and argues that queer teachers must be allowed and encouraged to affirm their own sexual identities in the classroom, for their own sakes but also for their students’ and colleagues’.

You can read Dr. Gutterman’s essay here.


Distinguished Undergraduate Thesis: Veronica Tien on Race and Representation of Unrest in Early-1990s Los Angeles

AMS::ATX asked the two Dean’s Distinguished Graduates from the undergraduate American Studies program to write a blog post about their research for their senior theses. Today, Veronica Tien discusses her work on media representations of the 1992 Los Angeles uprisings, particularly in the Los Angeles Times. Her work focuses on the ways that dominant media discourses surrounding the uprisings and conflicts of marginalized, racialized communities tend to obscure the presence and influence of predominantly white-led institutions of power.

My honors thesis is on modern narratives of urban unrest and studies Los Angeles Times front page photography of 1992 Los Angeles Uprising. It specifically discusses the ways in which South Los Angeles was visually portrayed as an inherent place of negativity in order to rationalize the history of institutionalized racism in L.A. I’m interested in understanding racism and its role in American society, and how it has never gone away though we often talk about the 1960s as an era of critical triumphs in United States history. My study of 1992 seeks to explore some of the ways we process racial issues and protest of racial oppression following Jim Crow. In a sense, it’s been a way for me to discover what really bothers me about some of the things we focus on when we discuss race.

In the beginning of my research it took me a while to focus because I was so unsure by what exactly fascinated me about the L.A. Uprising. In April of 2017, many documentaries came out about Los Angeles following the 25th anniversary of the unrest. The more I looked, the more I noticed there were also museum exhibits, photo galleries, scenes from movies. I felt like it was everywhere and every film or exhibit seemed to focus on the violence, the fires, and the destruction when it’s only one aspect of unrest. So I gravitated toward that and questioned what motivates the narrative of violence when representing protest of institutional racism, especially in a place like Los Angeles. The presence of different groups of people of color allows me to talk about race in a modern context and in reference to more than just Back and white power dynamics.

Learning more about stories of inter-ethnic conflict also persuaded me to focus on Los Angeles. Well-reported conflicts between Latino/a, Black, and Korean communities in L.A. made me feel like a key component was missing. I started to question the seemingly invisible nature of white dominance and the importance of defining minorities in relation to each other in racism. The model minority stereotype, for example, is something I’ve done research on in the past. This concept has come up in my research of Los Angeles and has been something I’ve found meaningful to explore as a Chinese-American person. In a conversation with my dad the other day, I liked the way he described this assertion of whiteness as, “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Having stared at words for several hours, this irreverent reference to white power stuck with me. It is something constantly constructed and rationalized, rather than some amorphous inequality.

Though incredibly difficult, writing my thesis has been one of the best things I’ve done at UT. Figuring out how to deal with my own problems in my research and writing has been more formative than any problems I’ve encountered when answering a prompt for a class. It’s taught me to be really honest with myself and my ideas, which I’m finding out is hard when you’ve had an idea for over a year! At a certain point you don’t get to decide what you research because you have to listen to what the archive is telling you.

Distinguished Undergraduate Thesis: Kerri Cavanaugh on the Social Implications of Factor Farms in Contemporary USA

AMS::ATX asked the two Dean’s Distinguished Graduates from the undergraduate American Studies program to write a blog post about their research for their senior theses. Today, we feature Kerri Cavanaugh’s description of her work on the wide-ranging power and social implications of the American factory farm system, and its intersections with US educational policy, nutritional recommendations, and the entrenched stratification of US society by race and class.

I remember the first time I saw Food Inc., a documentary that explores food production in the United States. The film looks specifically at factory farming, a way of producing food (primarily meat) in factory-like setting, where efficiency and speed are priorities. It was in my high school AP Environmental Science class. I was horrified by the images shown in the film; shocked at how little I knew about where food really comes from; disgusted by the inhumane nature of the food industry. At UT we watched and discussed Food Inc. in four of my classes. With each of these screenings, I engaged with a different aspect of the film: foodborne illnesses, animal rights, economic impacts, and subsidies–and each time I wanted to learn more. In the spring of 2017, I began organizing my research on the effects of factory farming on the self-identification of marginalized groups.

My research looks at dominant ideas about food and nutrition and how those affect different populations. For example, if you grew up going to public school in the United States, you might remember the Food Pyramid, a nutritional guide created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This infographic was used to teach children all over the country about how to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Then, in 2011, the Food Pyramid was replaced with MyPlate (different graphic, same concept). This image is pushed by the USDA to encourage people to eat a certain way. But what if you can’t afford to eat that way? How does that affect someone’s perception of themselves? This is a problem faced by a large number of Americans, and it’s because the U.S. government does not put their money where their mouth is.

The U.S. government heavily subsidizes the production of corn, which is used to produce high-fructose corn syrup and many other ingredients common in junk food and soda. Subsidized corn is also used to feed animals on intensive feedlots before they are slaughtered for meat production. As a result, the animals bodies get fat very quickly, which means more meat per animal, and in turn more profits as the production costs per pound of meat are reduced. Improper diets lead to problems with the animals’ digestive tracts, creating new virus strains like E. Coli 0157:H7, which you might remember from the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak or the 2006 spinach scare. And since corn is subsidized at a much higher rate than fruits and vegetables, unhealthy, high-calorie foods composed of sugar, fats and corn syrups are a lot cheaper to purchase than foods that are healthy for you. This is not ideal since MyPlate is composed of 50% fruits and vegetables. For a lot a families, especially people of color and low-income families, the high costs of fruits and vegetables makes it nearly impossible for them to eat how MyPlate tells them to.

So how does all of this affect those families and individuals? I’m still working on that part–but so far it does not look good. Factory farming, which is how the vast majority of meat in America is produced, has negative consequences on pretty much everyone. People who work in factory farms are often mistreated by employers. In fact, the agriculture industry (statistics also include statistics for the forestry, hunting and fishing industries with the Bureau of Labor Statistics) industry is the most dangerous job sector in America. These employees are often underpaid, have little collective bargaining capacity, are frequently injured on the job, and are often emotionally traumatized by this work. Animals raised in factory farm settings face horrifying conditions. They are beaten, fed improper diets, denied room to move around, and denied sunlight. Even people who do not eat meat or animal products are affected through their taxes.

These subsidies are what allows the fast food industry to make billions of dollars in profits by supplying low cost, high calorie foods to millions of people. Since meat from factory farms is so cheap, fast food restaurants, like Burger King and McDonald’s, are able to sell entire meals for $1. When you compare that to a carton of strawberries for $4, its easy to see why families and individuals on a budget rely on these establishments. It has become the most economically sensible option. On top of that, many low-income families live in areas with no access to grocery stores–where fast food is the only option. Unfortunately, this has helped produce and rising rates of obesity in America. The harsh reality is that many of the people, regardless of their weight, who cannot afford healthy food also cannot afford health insurance. Their subsequent medications, doctors visits, etc. are paid for with government health insurance, increasing taxes across the board.

One of the main things I am interested in uncovering is how all of this affects people’s relationships with the government. Are people who cannot afford to eat the MyPlate way more likely to vote and raise concerns with the government? To speak out and point to the ways they are being unfairly treated? Or are the less likely to engage in civil action? Do they feel that no one will listen? Just last week I sent out surveys to neighborhoods in Austin that are classified as food deserts, or areas that have limited access to grocery stores, and therefore, limited access to healthy foods (an issue that disproportionately affects people of color, especially in a city like Austin that was purposefully divided with the 1936 City Plan). And during the next couple of weeks I will be conducting focus groups with people who either currently, or at some point, have lived in an area classified as a food desert.

Watching the realities of our food production system in films like Food Inc. can be traumatic. As horrifying as the kinds of images depicted in the film may be, it is more horrifying to turn our backs on these issues. My goal in writing my thesis is to face these challenges head on and help create awareness of our current food production system. Hopefully as more people become aware and outraged at how the food they eat everyday is created, we can put a fork in factory farming.


AMS Distinguished Graduates: Veronica Tien

Veronica TienToday we are pleased to profile another brilliant and accomplished UT-Austin AMS undergraduate: Veronica Tien, who was one of two AMS majors this year to be named an honorable mention on the Dean’s Distinguished Graduate list.  

1. When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in?  

Veronica: I thought I would major in ethnic studies or sociology, and I wanted to minor in economics.

2. What was the first American Studies course you took at UT?  Why did you decide to take the course, and what do you remember about it?

The first American Studies course I took was AMS 310 the second semester of my freshman year. I actually took it because it was cross listed with HIS315L (one of those required core courses!). I remember we started talking about the 1920s and ’30s in the context of swing music and then continued on through the decades by popular genres like salsa and rock and continued into even more modern history like sampling in the ‘90s. Though we were talking about music a lot, we also focused on key historical moments from the Zoot Suit Riots to Disco Demolition Night and how it all interacted with public policy. It was the first time I learned about history and policy looking through lenses of music or film, and it really changed the way that I understand history and government.

3. Why did you decide to major in American Studies?

Veronica: After taking that class, I realized it was the perfect fit for my interest in race, sociology, and public policy and was a great complement to economics. Though the field is so broad, I saw that as an advantage because I could specialize and focus on the aspects of American culture and history that were especially interesting to me. Seeing courses on the schedule specifically about pop music, reality TV, and even oil brought the everyday of my life into an academic setting, then asked me to question it. I felt like every time I left class I wanted to talk more about what we discussed that day, which made the task of reading and writing at a college-level more meaningful and really worthwhile. I had to major in American Studies because I was thinking about it all the time!

4. What have been some of your favorite courses in the American Studies department and why?

Veronica: I have so many favorite courses, but I have to start with Introduction to American Studies because it drew me into the framework of the discipline, thinking about music, films, and history all together. We talked about so much stuff – it was challenging, but so interesting to learn so much. American Disasters is another one of my favorites because it challenged me to consider perspectives in issues like “natural” disasters, which we often process as neutral, unfortunate events. I loved this class because it was so discussion-based, so I was always curious to hear what other people thought. Professor Cordova taught both of these classes and really encouraged everyone to participate, which always made our discussions more interesting because we were hearing new perspectives. Borrowing and American Culture and Politics of Creativity are a couple more of my favorites! In these courses I was also able to hear peoples’ opinions in a 15 to 20-person class and was encouraged to share mine as well. All of these classes pushed my writing skills as well, but in research papers where I was able to do my own exploration into a topic that I found interesting. The independent nature of this work has really empowered me to keep reading and writing about things that are specifically interesting to me. And this of course prepared me as much as it could for my Honors thesis (which has taken a lot of independently-motivated effort)!

5. What are some of the most important questions you’ve considered during your time in American Studies?

Veronica:  I always come back to questions about identity, power, and the ability to control a narrative in American culture. A couple questions that often guide a lot of my studies are: how are beliefs about race, class, gender, or sexuality made “true” by American narratives? And what concrete outcomes do these beliefs and the rejection of them produce? It has always fascinated me to try to understand why we know the things we know in the exact way that we know them. I think American Studies has the ability to answer a lot of those questions.

6. How do you think American Studies might influence your career after you graduate? How has your time in American Studies influenced your career goals?

Veronica: American Studies has taught me the importance of bringing different perspectives into a conversation and to question what we understand as objective. My other major is Economics, and it would be a career dream of mine to merge research in both fields and bridge a gap I see in Economics regarding thoughtful research of historical context as well as the measured data. I will always want to bring an American Studies interpretation to any economic research I might conduct in the future. I am also determined to keep writing in whatever job I take so that I don’t lose the skills I’ve learned in American Studies!

7. What advice do you have for other students considering majoring in American Studies? 

Veronica: Do it! It’s one of the best things I’ve done at UT. But don’t only just do the major—do the readings (as much as possible!) [ editor’s note: yes, do the readings!], come to class, and speak when you feel like you have something to say. The field is so varied and interdisciplinary, so if you think your opinion is too specific or you think some thought is unrelated, just follow it and see what connections you find. Your professors will want to hear your perspective and help you become a better researcher, writer, and historian. You’ll be surprised at how much hard work you’ll do when you’re interested in what you’re studying!

AMS Distinguished Graduates: Kerri Cavanaugh

We are very pleased to announce that two American Studies Students were named as honorable mentions to the Dean’s Distinguished Graduates list. Over the next two days, Kerri Cavanaughwe’ll profile both students. Today, we’re featuring Kerri Cavanaugh.

1. When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in?  

Kerri: When I came to UT I wanted to pursue a general Liberal Arts degree. My advisor then informed me that getting a general degree was not an option and that I had about 2-3 weeks to pick a major. I decided on AMS without knowing anything about it or having taken any AMS classes. It just sounded like fun so I took a leap of faith.

2. What was the first American Studies course you took at UT?  Why did you decide to take the course, and what do you remember about it?

Kerri: I took AMS 310 (Intro to American Studies) and AMS 356 (Main Currents since 1865) at the same time and they were my first AMS classes. I took these classes because I thought they would be a good way to get to know my new major. I remember thinking how different they were from other history classes I had taken and how I was learning about things I had never heard of before. I loved that they taught me about pieces of American history and culture that are often forgotten or pushed away. I also remember that they were my favorite classes that semester and that I couldn’t wait to get to class each day.

3. Why did you decide to major in American Studies?

Kerri: I decided to major in AMS because it seemed like the most interesting major offered by the College, but I decided to stay in AMS because I love the ways it challenges me. I love that AMS makes me look at things I have always taken for granted and break them apart to see a whole new aspect that I had never considered before.

4. What have been some of your favorite courses in the American Studies department and why?

Kerri: This is a hard question, but if I had to pick my favorite AMS courses, I would probably pick Cultural History of Drugs and Alcohol (AMS 370), Reality TV in America (AMS 311S) and Main Currents since 1865 (AMS 356). Drugs and Alcohol and Reality TV were some of the first seminar classes I took in the major. They were classes that taught me a lot, but they were also so much fun (I also loved making people jealous by telling them those were the classes I was taking). I liked AMS 356 because of the sheer amount of information I learned. I finished the class feeling a lot more knowledgeable.

5. What are some of the most important questions you’ve considered during your time in American Studies?

Kerri: Probably the most important question I have considered during my time in American Studies is, “how do I take the information I have learned in class and apply it outside the classroom?” For me the answer was my thesis, a study on how factory farming affects the self-identification of marginalized groups in American society. I had been interested in factory farming and the ethical treatment of animals for a long time and the more I learned about them in classes (like AMS 370 -Environment/Justice/Media), the more I wanted to find a way to increase awareness of the problems. My supervisor, Dr. Smith, encouraged my to write my thesis and really explore these topics more fully. Engaging in my honors thesis has helped me develop my skills as a researcher, shape my job experiences, and strengthen my relationships in the department.

6. How do you think American Studies might influence your career after you graduate? How has your time in American Studies influenced your career goals?

Kerri: One of the best things about having AMS as a major is that it’s as broad or specific as you want it to be. When I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, I was able to take classes, like the Main Currents classes and seminars, that seemed interesting or cool. Then, as I started to realize I want to work in nonprofits, preferably with either food or animals, I was able to start taking classes that focused on exactly those things (AMS 370 – Animals/American Culture and AMS 370 – American Food). Now when I am applying for jobs, I am able to talk about the critical thinking skills I gained from AMS, my ability to look at things from multiple points of view, and my specific knowledge of the industries I want to work with.

7. What advice do you have for other students considering majoring in American Studies?

Kerri: Don’t be discouraged by the fact that there are probably not job postings out there saying “American Studies degree needed,” the same way there are jobs out there saying “Accounting degree needed.” Unless there is something very specific that you want to do after school that requires a very specific degree, like accounting or engineering, chances are you will be able to tailor your AMS degree towards your career goals. In AMS classes you learn to think critically, write well, and have difficult discussions, which are things every company will value. And if you are not sure what your career goals are, try what I did and take the required classes while you figure it out! Also, definitely get to know your professors. My professors in AMS have consistently gone above and beyond to challenge and support me, and I know they will do the same for other students!

WHOSE STREETS? Screening and Talkback with Director Damon Davis

When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marked a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis County. Grief, long-standing tension, and renewed anger brought residents together to hold vigil and protest. In the days that followed, artists, musicians, teachers, and parents turned into freedom fighters, standing on the front lines to demand justice.
Whose Streets?, an award-winning 2017 documentary film, tells the story of this uprising, from the vantage point of the activists themselves.  Next Monday, April 16th at 5:30 PM there will be a screening of Whose Streets?  followed by a director talkback with co-director Damon Davis.
Davis, co-director and producer of Whose Streets, is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist who works and resides in St. Louis, MO. Davis has work in multiple major US art museums, including the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Filmmaker Magazine selected him and fellow Whose Streets? director Sabaah Foloyan for their “25 New Faces of Independent Film 2016.”
The talkback will be moderated by Dr. Stephen Marshall, Associate Professor of American Studies and African and African Diaspora Studies.
Whose Streets Event Poster

Nate DiMeo, Creator of “Memory Palace” Podcast, to Give AMS Lecture

Nate DiMeo, the  creator of the historical story-telling podcast The Memory Palace and the 2016-2017 Artist in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will speak at  the American Studies Spring Symposium next Tuesday, April 10th at 6 PM at the HarryRansom Center. DiMeo will be in conversation with UT AMS PhD candidate and public historian Kerry Knerr.  DiMeo will discuss his methods of research, the production of his podcast, and the role of public scholarship in the American media landscape.