Student Spotlight – La’Nasia

CLASS Scholars attend high schools all across Nashville and bring to the Seminars a variety of interests and experiences. In the Student Spotlight feature, we’ll be letting you know a little more about who the CLASS Scholars are and what they do besides attend Seminars!

 

La’Nasia – Lead Academy High School – Class of 2017

Outside of school La’Nasia enjoys listening to music, dancing, and studying foreign languages like Korean and Japanese. Her varied interests also carry over into her time in the classroom with her favorite topics of study including English and Spanish.

So far La’Nasia says that the CLASS seminars have been “really rewarding” and have “sparked a little interest in sociology” for her. Her favorite seminars thus far have been “The Dating Game” and “The Paradox of Punk” because she is “interested in how people interact with each other and the world around them.”

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Student Spotlight – Zontre

CLASS Scholars attend high schools all across Nashville and bring to the Seminars a variety of interests and experiences. In the Student Spotlight feature, we’ll be letting you know a little more about who the CLASS Scholars are and what they do besides attend Seminars!

Zontre – East Nashville Magnet High School – Class of 2017

by Jenifer Abercrombie

Zontre is a self-proclaimed “theatre geek” who participates in everything from musicals to improv and film. He is also class president and a National Honors Society Member who does volunteer work and participates in various youth organizations. Academically, Zontre’s favorite subject is English which he says improves his acting craft and opens his mind to new ways of thinking.

He likes the CLASS seminars so far because they have all been something relatable to teenagers and expanded on topics that are not covered during regular school hours. He thought that Dr. McDonald’s Shakespeare seminar was “pretty fun” because it forced him to try a new kind of acting, but he says that all three seminars have been “great.”

Thanks, Jenifer!

Jeni meets the new CLASS scholars at orientation last December
Jeni meets the new CLASS scholars at orientation last December

As we wrap up this Spring semester, I wanted to thank Jenifer Abercrombie for all of her help with the CLASS Seminars. Jenifer is graduating from Belmont next week with a B.A. degree in English. As our inaugural CLASS Seminars Intern, Jenifer greeted the Scholars every week, kept attendance, and wrote the summaries of the seminars we’ve been enjoying this semester. She has also completed a number of student profiles, which will continue to appear over the next couple of weeks.

Thanks again for all you’ve done!

Order in the Court: “To Kill a Mockingbird and the Imagined Civil Rights Movement”

by Jenifer Abercrombie

How did Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington D.C. end plastered on a bus stop? How did a political revolution become a shopping holiday? Dr. Peter Kuryla, associate professor of history at Belmont University, began his seminar “Civil Rights Demonstrations Amid Courtroom Melodramas: To Kill a Mockingbird and the Imagined Civil Rights Movement,” with just those questions.

Dr. Kuryla began his lecture by showing the scholars how “the civil rights movement [has become] a part of our everyday lives.” Besides what is taught in history classrooms, people can now commemorate the fight for civil rights with Little Rock High School Mugs or Rosa Parks Cookie Jars. Dr. Kuryla asserted that these objects are indicators of people’s opinion about civil rights. The moment you can see a political movement for sale,” he said, “you know people have embraced it.”

Rosa Parks cookie jar
Rosa Parks cookie jar

But how did this happen? How did a radical social and political move for equality become “not so controversial anymore?” Dr. Kurlya started with an explanation of what made it controversial in the first place. “Has anyone seen the movie Selma?” he asked. As a few hands went up across the room, Dr. Kuryla explained that the film was one of the first to display the civil rights movement from the activists’ point of view. What made the civil rights movement so polarizing and difficult for people, he explained, was the violence, like that depicted in the movie, that people began seeing on their televisions. While most activists promoted peace, the response to their protests were often exactly the opposite, and as Dr. Kuryla said, the public began to wonder, “what kind of America is this?”

Selma March 7, 1965
Selma, Alabama –  March 7, 1965

What made the demonstrations of civil rights activists so powerful, Dr. Kuryla argued, was the fact that the demonstrations like those in Selma or Anniston “put white violence against black people on display.” This influx of unnerving images of disorder, violence, and chaos prompted Americans to respond in a strange way: their media consumption. To showcase an example Dr. Kuryla turned to ABC’s television schedule on Bloody Sunday in 1965. While Selma, Alabama was erupting in violence, ABC was preparing to show the night’s scheduled film, Judgement at Nuremburg, a courtroom drama centered around the trials of Nazi war criminals. During the film, breaking news interrupted the fictional drama with footage from the streets of of the Selma march. This moment of spliced film strips cemented the connection in people’s minds; what made the Nazi criminals any different from Alabama law enforcement?

Scene from Judgement at Nuremberg
Scene from Judgement at Nuremberg

And which was easier to watch? Marlena Dietrich and Montgomery Clift playing the scripted justice of a courtroom or real Americans divided and viciously beating their countrymen on the pavement? Enter To Kill a Mockingbird. This book, which now tops high school reading lists, was released in 1960 and adapted to film in 1962. In the midst of real turmoil, Americans were turning in droves to fiction for order and understanding. To demonstrate the influence of courtroom fiction, Dr. Kuryla showed the scholars the trial scene from the To Kill A Mockingbird film. Afterwards he asked the Scholars to analyze the characters and reveal the message that depicts “Black people [as] largely defenseless and innocent,” and their savior as a “white, middle class, liberal, educated man.” In reality, Dr. Kuryla argued, the civil rights movement was much less orderly and the roles much less defined. In the midst of the real civil rights movement there were less white lawyers defending equality, and more black activists in the streets, doing the movement themselves.

Scene from To Kill a Mockingbird
Scene from To Kill a Mockingbird

But according to Dr. Kuryla the courtroom drama dynamic that populated so much literature and film at the time of the civil rights movement is exactly what has altered its collective memory. Dr. Kuryla presented the scholars with research showing that Americans consumed more courtroom drama during the time of the civil rights movement than any other time in history. But why the love for court? He asserted that the order of courtroom fiction became most appealing during a time of upheaval, when both laws and ideas were being challenged, when violence seemed to reign over justice. He also noted that as the logic of the courtroom has been mapped onto our understanding of that time period, the movement has slowly lost its controversial nature and eventually slipped into commercialism.

In a world where education and public opinion remember Harper Lee more often than Emmett Till and the judge’s bench over the Selma streets, Dr. Kuryla challenged the scholars to take a new look at history and think about how and what we consume in order to resist turning a political revolution into a cheap souvenir.