Dec 6, 2021 | Atlanta, GA
Students interested in examining media from an analytical perspective and learning how race intersects with contemporary social factors will soon be able to enroll in the new Black Media Studies (BMS) minor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC) at Georgia Tech. BMS was approved by the Georgia Tech Academic Faculty Senate on Oct. 19, with classes tentatively being offered as early as May 2022.
The multidisciplinary program combines a variety of innovative approaches and methods to study the relationships between media, culture, and racial politics on people of African descent. It also uses digital technologies to design and make media that connects to the cultural practices of Black people.
“Done right, we knew this could be the beginning of something — the opportunity to contribute to the foregrounding of a field that really focuses on the intersection of media, culture, and technology, with racial blackness, but also cultural blackness, and what all of that means,” said Joycelyn Wilson, LMC assistant professor and lead for the Black Media Studies minor proposal. “Being in a city like Atlanta, where we see those intersections happening in real time, it makes sense for Georgia Tech to be a place that really prepares its students for the type of world that includes the intersection of such concepts when it comes to media, technology, and culture.”
Courses cover a number of subjects including Hip Hop Studies, Afrofuturism, Black documentary films and podcasts, technoculture, gender, and Black cultural politics and the Southern experience.
To further amplify the impact of offering Black Media Studies at Georgia Tech, the minor will appear on student transcripts of its students — a status that makes teaching and research in the area more prominent on campus, while also ensuring coursework will continue to be available to students beyond the original founding faculty of the program.
A Unique Intersection for a Technological World
While the BMS minor is housed in LMC, it is open to students across Georgia Tech’s campus and can complement countless majors to help develop well-rounded global professionals with diverse humanistic perspectives.
“An industrial design major who wants to design for Nike, for example, may want to understand the ways in which media culture, particularly race and society, all intersect together,” posed Wilson. “Or, a student in the Scheller College of Business may want to go into the entertainment or technology industry to work for a corporation who values culture. There are so many opportunities the BMS minor can provide for the students at Georgia Tech. This is a major move not only for the School, but the College as well as the Institute.”
Offering collegiate-level study in Black media at Georgia Tech is fitting for a diverse campus found in the heart of a fast-growing metropolis like Atlanta. We found only two similar programs in the pioneering field of Black media studies currently available in the United States: a minor in Black Cinema and Media Studies at the Media School at the University of Indiana Bloomington, and a combined Ph.D. in African-American Studies and Film and Media Studies at Yale University.
“The City of Atlanta and Georgia Tech are the perfect incubators for this type of program,” said John Thornton, founding faculty member for BMS, senior academic professional, and director of film and media production in LMC. “Atlanta was a linchpin of the Civil Rights Movement, is home to the most extensive accumulation of HBCUs, and is still a beacon for Black entrepreneurs, academics, and content creators alike. The new Black Media Studies minor is monumental and will serve as a connective opportunity for Georgia Tech students to analyze, design, and build digital artifacts centered on Black culture in a city that is currently a significant player in creating, developing, and procuring Black culture."
Moreover, the minor aligns with LMC’s commitment to prioritizing diversity and inclusion, serving as a school that, according to its 2021 Academic Program Report (APR), “is socially aware and dedicated to dismantling racial inequality and all other forms of discrimination — against racial and ethnic minorities, women, individuals who identify with LGBTQIA+ communities, individuals with disabilities, and individuals from lower income backgrounds — in its research, teaching, and service initiatives.”
The BMS minor as well as the recently launched minor in African Studies, offered jointly by the Schools of Modern Languages; Economics; Literature, Media, and Communication; Public Policy; and the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, also further the Institute’s strategic focus area to “lead and inspire by example by creating a culture of deliberate innovation in all our practices and be an example of efficiency, sustainability, ethics, equity, and inclusion.”
The Road to Accreditation
Wilson was brought in as a target of opportunity hire in 2017. Along with Morris, she was challenged as part of her hiring to build out an innovative educational program by former Ivan Allen College Dean Jacqueline Royster.
“I believe as the dean, [Royster] saw a gap that needed to be filled,” said Wilson. “We're in a city where films are being made, where there is this hub — this budding Silicon Valley so to speak — for black technologists, where there is this design industry, all of which are here because of the culture, human rights and civil rights history, and the diversity Atlanta brings. To not have a formal curriculum, or a menu of classes, or even faculty in the School to guide students in that direction, was something she saw that needed to happen.”
At the faculty retreat in August of 2019, Wilson and Morris worked together to define Black Media Studies at Georgia Tech. Once they had their vision, they needed to choose what shape it would take: a certificate, a thread in the LMC major, or a minor.
Both Carol Colatrella, LMC professor and former IAC associate dean for graduate studies and faculty development, and Carol Senf, director of undergraduate studies for LMC, encouraged the pursuit of the minor instead of a thread or certificate.
“They told us, ‘if you're going to do this, perhaps you need to do it in a way that is official, right?’” said Wilson. “We originally wanted a minor, so their encouragement was really confirmation that we could actually do this.”
Wilson served on the Academic Faculty Senate her first three years at Georgia Tech, so she was familiar with the accreditation process and served as the lead for the minor proposal. She emphasized the support she received from her BMS colleagues and other faculty, administrative professionals from LMC, Ivan Allen College, and Georgia Tech, all of whom worked together to push the proposal through and ensure its efficacy.
“This is an example of multi-level institutional strategic planning, because the Black Media Studies minor is in alignment with LMC strategic goals, it’s in alignment with the College's institutional goal, and the Institution's strategic plan,” said Wilson. “It was a labor of love, but this is something that has the potential to exist long beyond myself, Dr. Moore, Dr. Brock, Mr. Thornton, or any of the initial folks who assisted in getting it approved.”