I first shared this assignment in LaGuardia’s Spring 2017 mini-seminar Introducing Your Discipline in the First Year Seminar. I developed the assignment drawing on both Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl halftime show and her music video “Formation” to initiate a discussion about how the Liberal Arts may inform our readings of popular culture images and performances. Through an analysis of content and form of Beyoncé’s musical performance and the video, students are invited to reflect on the ways in which a Liberal Arts education can contribute to a deeper understanding of the social issues addressed in the work. In our guided discussion, students frequently offer observations on historical and cultural contexts as well as power relations based on race and gender. We then explore the role of a liberal arts education (theatre and performance studies, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, music, etc.) in connecting and deciphering the various discourses that intersect in cultural events. To further familiarize students with the various disciplines that make up the Liberal Arts, we then explore the curriculum of the Liberal Arts: Social Science and Humanities major in the college catalogue. In an in-class activity, students are tasked with finding at least two courses that connect with the issues addressed in Beyoncé’s “Formation” and explaining the ways in which these courses may inform our understanding of the song. As a third step, students include their findings in a formal reflection on the role of the Liberal Arts and their place in it. While the in-class activities are ungraded (but count for students’ participation grade), the reflection is 10% of the final grade.
Note: If you are interested in integrating other aspects of Beyoncé’s Lemonade album in your pedagogy, also consider my colleague Bethany Holmstrom’s work: https://bethanyholmstrom.net/2016/08/30/lemonadesyllabus-switcheroo/.
While Holmstrom developed her assignments for the composition classroom, some of them (especially Paper 4) may easily be adapted for the Liberal Art First Year seminar.
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Marks, Christine, "Exploring the Uses of the Liberal Arts through Beyoncé’s “Formation”" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.