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A Student Interview on Media Studies + Food Studies

Here at the University of Tulsa, students coming to college directly from high school take in their first semester a 1-credit course, “First Year College Experience.” The class aims to support students through this transition and provide them with strategies for success during college. While every professor teaches the course differently, one skill often emphasized is “how to communicate with professors.” Students practice this skill through interviews that they set up with faculty in fields of their interest.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Hana Saad about media studies and my own food studies positioning within the field. To start, Hana summarized media studies as:

Media studies is an interdisciplinary degree. Those who major in media studies work to understand the history and content of mass media, as well as the role that media plays in our society. Media studies is somewhat unique, as each individual can personalize their education with classes from a variety of other fields. This is why this major is such a great option. It allows students to study multiple passions and interests and opens them up to a range of different careers. Some of these careers include: creative directors, storytellers, media planners, and producers, as well as many other exciting options. Media studies is a field that is full of possibilities.

What follows is a slightly edited version of her account of our conversation. My thanks to Hana for her permission to share it here.

What got you interested in your discipline?

Dr. Emily Contois told me she was interested in food and how “food and health” are portrayed in the media. She talked about how the connection between food, persuasion, and the media has always interested her, so that was her main reason for becoming a professor in media studies.

What is your speciality?

Within media studies, Dr. Contois specializes in food studies, gender studies, and public health nutrition. She got her PhD in in American studies.

Who do you look up to the most in your discipline?

Warren Belasco and Carol Counihan are two people that Dr. Contois looks up to the most in her discipline. She feels “so lucky that the masters of food studies” were also her mentors. She still is in communication with both of those incredible scholars today. She said she will “look up to them forever.” She also has a close relationship with her professor, Julia Ehrhardt, who taught one of her first undergraduate courses. She feels lucky because Ehrhardt is now someone that she calls a colleague.

If you could choose a different discipline to study, what would it be and why? 

Dr. Contois does study a variety of exciting disciplines. She told me, it is “so exciting to land in media studies” because it allows her to study all of the things she is interested in. She was not trained in media studies specifically, but her work has always been related closely to the field.

What is your favorite course to teach?

Dr. Contois told me about a class that she hopes to teach next semester at TU. It would be called “Food and/as Media” and would cover topics such as food studies, food and social media (like Instagram), and the critical production of food.

How do you choose what to teach in your classes, including lecture topics and readings? How do you prepare a course? 

Dr. Contois uses a method called “Backward Course Design.” She begins by thinking about what she wants her students to know at the end of the course, then moves onto the specific books she will use and what assignments she wants her students to work on.

How does working in your discipline affect your perspective of the world? 

Dr. Contois told me, “In both food studies and media studies, there is an underlying commitment to social justice and equity.” Dr. Contois said when we study pop culture, it allows us to “stop and question how media works” and how people are being persuaded. She says these fields of study have real “activist potential.”

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