Capstone: 2016 Cohort

Communities of Black Scholars: Black Students at Elite Private Universities: Washington University Case Study 

Abena Apaw 

Black student unions arose during a time of anxiety at college campuses and across the United States as the nation tried to understand diversity and inclusion. Black student unions rose to the occasion when the death of Martin Luther King sparked outrage in the Black community. They implemented plans to bring the campus face to face with racism. Black students were, in some cases, successful and, in other cases, unsuccessful in their attempts to change the institution and the culture. Some plans became a part of reality that we now know and some were so grand that it never came pass. The legacy of black student unions has always been that of being pioneers amongst cultural groups 

Black Student Unions are diverse. They are influenced by the campus environment. Most scholarship surrounding BSUs has been around the black student unions in the early sixties, seventies, and eighties. Recent research on black students has been around black students as individuals and not organizations serving black students. Research will be based on a survey of a sample of black students. Likert scale questions and long response questions were used to measure students’ satisfaction with BSU at Washington University. 

Today, Black student unions are faced with the same challenges they were faced in the late sixties, but now those challenges include a more diverse student population within black students and black students who are more integrated in mainstream society. In addition, they must reinforce why they are necessary today when many black students view blackness differently than previous generations of students and many come in hopes of having new experiences with people of different cultural backgrounds.  

The purpose of this study is to see how black students of today participate in black student unions, decipher trends of participation, and understand what this cultural group means to the people it is supposed to serve. The final goal is to contribute to the conversation about African American persistence in higher education and factors that predict student success. The conclusion of this study is that some black students feel disengaged with the black student union in this case study. At this time, it is hard to tell if those students are African immigrants or mixed students. Though students have issues with the university, they feel more supported by the university than they do by the black student union at Washington University. 


The Misinformers: Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, and The Troubled Relationship Between Hacktivists, Mass Media and American Government  

Brian Benton 

In 2013, Edward Snowden made headlines when he leaked thousands of NSA documents, revealing an extensive surveillance program in what has been called the most important moment of whistleblowing since the Pentagon Papers. Months earlier, hacker and activist Aaron Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment after being arrested for illegally downloading files from JSTOR. Each engaged in forms of digital civil disobedience, using technology to call for change, and fit under the greater umbrella concept of hacktivism. However, both fell victim to the long-lasting media bias against hacktivists, who are often not taken seriously because their actions take place online or pigeonholed into hacker communities historically tied to selfishness, criminality, or illegitimacy. In this paper, I will analyze the relationship between hacktivists and the media, and consider how both rely on and combat one another. I will evaluate several examples of media coverage of Snowden’s and Swartz’s stories in and around 2013, and place them in the greater context of media coverage of hacktivism. Ultimately, I argue that a focus on Snowden and Swartz as individuals, rather than on the issues they advocate for, as well as the use of biased, politicized language negatively impacted them and led to a lack of public awareness or policy change. 


The Cultural Logic of American Individualism 

Kierstan Carter (Honors thesis) 

What does it mean to be a free citizen in late 20th and early 21st century America? The last thirty years have been witness to crises of individualism in the arts, politics, and mass culture. These crises have been understood as independent and given the names “postmodernism,” “the collapse of American civic life,” and “The Me Me Me Generation” respectively. In each case, the individual’s relationship to the relevant whole has been drastically reordered. In postmodernism, the individual has become ahistorical; in the collapse of civic life, apolitical; in mass culture, acommunal. Rather than addressing these three cultural shifts as independent or loosely correlated, I identify a common root which I call the New Cultural Logic of American Individualism. My project attempts to account for the three paradigmatic shifts in how middle-class Americans relate to themselves and nation through extended close reading of canonical postmodern dystopian novels: The Handmaid's Tale; Infinite Jest; White Noise; and Super Sad True Love Story. I position these close readings against political theories that account for positive/negative freedom, utilitarianism, consumption and selfhood, nationhood. In my first chapter I ask, “what is freedom?”; second, “what is freedom for?”; third, “why is freedom thus constructed?”; finally, “what are the effects of freedom thus constructed?” To answer these questions I develop the interlocking theories of "freedom as satisfaction,” which replaces rights-based freedom with the embodied satisfaction of desire, and "the perverse individual," a social actor motivated by a fear of death and as a result improperly oriented towards self and nation. Together, these theories comprise the New Cultural Logic of American Individualism, in which satisfaction-seeking social actors operate under narrowed self-interest that unmakes the nation by dissolving ties of mutual reliance between citizens. 


Taste of Identity: A Case Study of Cultural Identity in Soulard 

Hailey Durno 

As someone who knew very little about the city of St. Louis before moving here I was interested in seeing how the identity of the city can be described and defined.  Where I am from most people know St. Louis as the city of baseball and beer. Though there is much more to the city than the Cardinals and Anheuser Busch. One of the most surprising things about the city to me is the food culture; there is a plethora of different and distinct restaurants that are generally collected in a certain neighborhood. The immigrants that came to live there generally define these neighborhoods and food culture. As a result there are distinct food cultures and traditions surrounding these different groups of people. Through a food culture lens I aim to determine how the different waves of immigrants have influenced the city as a whole. Taking Soulard neighborhood as a case study of the city, I aim to see how the different waves of immigrants have created different layers of lasting influence in the neighborhood. From the start of the neighborhood as the “French Quarter” to its lasting Irish influences to its more recent Mexican influence and finally to its ever present Mardi Gras celebration, Soulard has many layers of culture as seen through the neighborhood itself as well as the restaurants and food found there.  Through the use of photography combined with academic sources I hope to be able to provide a unique look at the neighborhood. Finally, using Anderson’s Imagined Communities, local history, Freidman’s theory on cultural identity, and other sources on cultural identity, food culture, and community, I am to discover how different layers of culture found in the Soulard neighborhood represent a micro picture of the greater phenomenon present in St. Louis as a whole. 


The Fear that Divided St. Louis:  Housing Segregation and Real Estate Policies 

Tom Garvin 

This project focuses on the issue of segregation in the St. Louis region, and the very intentional ways that it was enforced through real estate practices and citizen behavior.  The paper will focus primarily within the time frame of 1950s to 1960s, as well as some examples for the present day.  Sources include some newspaper articles illustrating the struggles of black families as they relate to available housing during this time period.  These articles come from the “Negro Scrapbook” provided by the Missouri History Museum and Research Center.  Other sources include secondary pieces highlighting present-day segregation issues still plaguing the region, as well as historical accounts of its development throughout the past several decades.  The question that I attempt to answer is why racial segregation was able to persist for so long after laws were passed to prevent it.  The answer lies in a collective sentiment of fear coming from both white citizens and real estate companies.  Both their behavior and their policies were heavily influenced by this fear, and racial segregation was able to persist as a result.  The project provides a detailed historical background of housing issues in St. Louis while further analyzing what these events meant to citizens of the time, what they mean now, and the importance of understanding their influence on our behaviors today.  It begs the question of what and who truly governs society:  our laws or our morals?  The sad (and still continuing) story of St. Louis’s racial divide shows that our morals and cultural ideals are indeed what shape the landscape of our cities and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the social issues that define them. 


Bartlet for America: Reconstructing the Presidential Ideal in The West Wing 

Emily Haselton (Honors thesis) 

Although The West Wing went off the air almost ten years ago, fictional President Jed Bartlet has not left the minds of viewers who came to know and love him. Even today, there are people who wish they could vote for Bartlet in the coming presidential election. What is it about Bartlet as a leader and as a person that makes his popularity so enduring? When we say that The West Wing is an idealized vision of the American presidency what does that mean? What was it about the political environment of the late 1990s and early 2000s that made The West Wing’s approach to the presidency particularly salient and particularly evocative? This paper seeks to answer these questions by exploring the presidential ideal as the outcome of the collective imagination of presidential heroes of the past, but this ideal had been damaged by political and cultural turns of the late 20th century, including various presidential betrayals, like Watergate, that called into question the President’s inherent benevolence, and a shifting of priorities that replaced the presidential pedestal with a desire for “realness” behind the media-spun façade. The West Wing recuperates the presidential ideal by casting long-held facets of the ideal in new and more palatable lights. But more than that it is a specifically liberal vision of the ideal. This paper demonstrates the dynamics of this recuperation across three of these facets, each of which can be conceived of as a different kind of strength: militaristic, symbolic, and intellectual. In so doing, it reaches the conclusion that in reconstructing traditional components of the presidential ideal in a new way, the show never pushes it in an entirely new direction, leading to stagnation in an ideal that could be fluid. 


Industrial Suburbs Do Not Have to Fail: Wood River, Illinois: Surviving Abandonment 

Mallory Minster 

Industrial suburbs are a foreign concept to almost everyone. However, they are incredibly widespread and lay just outside all major cities. One author even goes as far as to say that every city needs an industrial suburb. It is in the industrial suburb that a city’s major industry takes root, providing land for both industrial production and workers’ lives. However, oftentimes, workers’ personal lives are compromised for the sake of industry and the suburb itself cannot function without the industry’s authority. Prescribed to a short-lived, detrimental life cycle, industrial suburbs are pinned as having no chance of survival after they lose their “industrial” prefix. Past literature on the topic fixates on the negative effects that industry has on these industrial suburbs and underscores their impersonal nature.  

Industrial suburbs surround St. Louis, making it an especially relevant topic to study for my capstone. Most commonly known: the rise and fall of East St. Louis, which epitomized Theising’s industrial suburb life cycle. What I am most interested in, however, is industrial suburbs’ often-overshadowed positive aspects. Focusing on Wood River, Illinois, which once bustled with Standard Oil’s industry, my capstone will examine the relationship between the industrial suburb and its inhabitants. I aim to differentiate Wood River from the negative stigma that comes along with the label of “industrial suburb,” by looking at some of its humanizing factors through the Wood River museum and personal interviews. Withstanding the test of time and the odds stacked against it, Wood River remains intact today and looks back on its industrial past with pride. I hope to convey these sentiments through my writing, emphasizing that an industrial suburb’s life does not have to begin and end with industry, nor is it completely missing the community aspect we often see in its residential counterparts. 


Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Might Lose? Masculinity in Crisis on Friday Night Lights 

Danny Schwarz 

Every Friday Night Lights fan knows the line: “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.” But what if Coach Taylor’s edict is not as powerful a message as we believe? Set in the small, rural, high school football-obsessed town of Dillon, TX, Friday Night Lights is a critically acclaimed TV drama based loosely on a best-selling book by Buzz Bissinger that also inspired a film. Popular media like Friday Night Lights can serve as both a reflection of and an influence on American culture, and for this reason is a significant text to study. While gender studies often leaves interpretations of the concept of masculinity by the wayside, this series is inundated with provocative versions of men and boys that deserve scholarly inquiry. With this in mind, I chose to give a closer look at the essential role of masculinity in the series, combining scholarly reading with character analysis in order to come to my own conclusions. In my project, I examine themes of hypermasculinity and homosociality in association with the show’s male characters in order to analyze Friday Night Lights’ message. I demonstrate how the show’s central character—Coach Eric Taylor—preaches an idealized form of masculinity that his players and, at times, he himself fail to live up to. Ultimately, I conclude that while fans and the show’s creators focus on Coach Taylor’s optimism in discussing the series, there is a lack of nuance in discussing Coach Taylor’s and other characters’ versions of masculinity, which leaves us with a two-dimensional series full of cliché. In fact, there is a pessimism in the portrayal of masculinity on Friday Night Lights that is hidden in the current discourse. With TV’s impact in 21st century American culture clear, this unacknowledged thesis turns a potentially constructive show about masculinity into a missed opportunity. 


Top Picks for You: Consumption and Identity on Netflix 

Loren Wright 

Netflix is the main procrastination tool of college students everywhere, but could it be introducing other kinds of stress into our lives? Traditionally taste – and therefore identity – have been defined by other people. We tie a myriad of social markers to the things we consume – film, television, music, clothing, etc.; if someone likes foreign films, for example, you might assume that they’re cultured or snobbish. Normally humans make that link for ourselves. Netflix’s personalized categories are one example of the new ways in which technology does that work for us. Scrolling through Netflix gives you access to an incredible wealth of movies and television, but those films and TV shows aren’t arranged just any old way. Each user’s Netflix homepage is grouped into categories using an intricate tagging system and is based on that user’s individual taste. It’s a handy feature, but what are its consequences?  

This capstone seeks to explore the effects of Netflix’s presence in the relationship between taste and identity. Using a theoretical framework comprised of more traditional academic texts on this topic (Bourdieu, Douglas and Isherwood) and more modern texts concerned with how humans relate to technology (Jenkins, Hayles), I discern that Netflix is an example of how our identities are being mediated through technology. Unfortunately, this development is neither positive nor neutral. Netflix’s categories serve as an extra locus of judgment: one more place where the things you consume might belie things about yourself that you dislike. Further, Netflix limits you in many ways from exploring film and television outside of your comfort zone, to a certain extent pigeonholing you in to a specific identity. Can you imagine a world in which the only things you can access are the things you already like? While Netflix’s categories are interesting and helpful, they hint at a darker, more extreme consumerist future. It may seem alarmist to worry about a film and television streaming service, but if there is anything I have learned from science fiction, it is that these things tend to escalate.