Capstone: 2017 Cohort

Hookup Culture and Standards of Beauty on WashU’s Campus

Rebecca Benson

The hookup culture is widely known and accepted on WashU’s campus. A hookup entails sexual contact between individuals with a lack of commitment and emotional attachment; the hookup culture survives on the concept of one-night stands. In many cases, students participate in the hookup culture in order to gain access to any form of sexual intimacy on WashU’s campus. This pattern of sexual behavior on a college campus has been observed and documented in the past decade, however literature surrounding the implications of this culture is lacking. 

My research is focused on the consequences of the hookup culture on WashU’s campus. More specifically, I explore the complexities between hooking up and standards of beauty. I hypothesized that male and female students define the standards of beauty differently, and female students strive to adhere to beauty standards in order to “succeed” within the hookup culture. My research is centered on survey and interview responses from WashU students. I aim to illuminate the relationship between the hookup culture and standards of beauty, and how male and female students define beauty similarly or differently.

My findings demonstrated that men and women at WashU rank the importance of thinness differently, with men ranking it less important than women. Additionally, more men than women felt positively toward the hookup culture, while women tended to feel more negatively than men. Overall, this project culminated my studies within this major because I was able to perform a field study relevant to a social practice I was immersed in, and have witnessed firsthand. Additionally, I was able to explore certain phenomena that affect people my age, and these findings may potentially create an important dialogue on campus about self-esteem, beauty standards and the consequences of the hookup culture.    


The Mainstream and the Alternative: Understanding how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Argus Characterized the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riots

Yash Bhatia (Honors thesis)

This thesis focuses on differential media reporting of the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riots. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Argus were two relevant newspapers at the time of the riots with very different readerships and missions. The Post-Dispatch aimed to serve its predominantly white readership as a liberal crusader for justice, while the Argus acted as a voice for empowering African-Americans in the region. As such, the Post-Dispatch can be seen as a mainstream newspaper supporting majority viewpoints, leaving a void for the pro-black Argus to fill as an alternative news source. The main purpose of this project then becomes to investigate the significance of each paper’s distinct narrative construction of the Race Riots, as well as understand how an alternative news source developed in opposition to the mainstream. Specifically, what was similar and different in each paper’s respective characterization of the riots, and how did it align with their overall mission? By discerning which events and details were highlighted, we can gain a deeper understanding as to each paper’s true goals and functions in society, and further speculate the impacts reporting had on both readerships. To tackle these ideas, this project begins with a historical analysis of the riots, focusing on the racial, economic, and political dynamics in East St. Louis that allowed for an eruption of racist violence to occur. Using archival materials, a history of the Post-Dispatch and Argus is then followed to provide context for reporting on the 1917 Riots and to uncover the relationship between the two papers, with specific attention paid to each paper’s depiction of African-Americans. Finally, this project continues using archival materials to dive into the paper’s reporting over a three month period that encapsulated the riots. Overall, there is substantial literature that discusses the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riots as a historical event, as well as literature that dictates histories of the Post-Dispatch and the Argus. However, there are no scholarly pieces that comparatively analyze these paper’s depictions of the riots, which is where this project aims to situate itself. 


“You knew you were equal”: Black Women Constructing Place in Pruitt-Igoe

Candace Borders (Mellon Mays thesis)

There is an eerie calm that accompanies the abandoned, 57-acre forest where the Pruitt- Igoe Homes once loomed over north St. Louis. Infamous for its high rates of crime and dramatic demolition in 1972, Pruitt-Igoe is both remembered and forgotten. While the project’s notoriety has endured in popular thought and scholarly works, the lived experiences of Pruitt-Igoe’s tenants have largely gone ignored. Within five years of the housing project’s construction, the modern-era project was inhabited by a majority of female-headed households (Joan Miller, Lee Rainwater, and Frances A. Koestler, “Pruitt-Igoe: Survival in a Concrete Ghetto,” October 1967, 4.). These Black women existed at the intersection of poverty, segregation, and state-surveillance, caring for their children in a project that is heralded as the symbol of the failure of modern housing design. While two notable ethnographies exist that touch on motherhood in Pruitt-Igoe, one focuses on women in adolescence and the other engages a problematic Black matriarchy framework (Ladner 1971; Rainwater 1970). Their complex existence, and the ways in which they navigated and advocated for their families within the space of the housing project, is an essential component in creating a complicated narrative of Pruitt-Igoe’s deep impact even after its demolition. Through collecting stories and memories from their children, my research curates a narrative of Black motherhood in Pruitt-Igoe that transcends the often one-dimensional understanding of Black women and their families.


Beyond Wanderlust: Radical Living, Consumer Culture, and the Journey

Lauren Chase (Honors thesis)

In contemporary American culture “wanderlust” is sprawled in funky fonts across notebooks and keychains, idealized by young adult people in movies and blogs. This aestheticization and dissemination of the ideal is created by the same consumer culture that prevents many people from wandering. In these writings, I explore wandering as a radical possibility for re-imagining consumption and hierarchical divisions through the embodied knowledge of cross-cultural connection in liminal space. I braid personal narratives that explore what wandering can be with media close readings to investigate consumer culture’s manipulations of it, situated within a philosophical framework of radical living. My writings suggest that wandering can have the potential to dismantle hierarchy and comprehensive capitalism, with the constraints of unequal accessibilities and dependence on the excesses of the system. I do not argue that radical living is enough, but that there is not a zero sum game between it and civic engagement. Wandering, in this piece, connotes a timelessness, a boundlessness, and an openness to walk parallel to and intersect with other wanderers, migrants, and locals in new environments outside of the socio-political-economic demands of American culture. This bridges divides between individualist wanderers and civic change-agents,  recognizing possibilities not only to challenge systems to change tomorrow, but to live out the values of imagined futures in interpersonal, but transgressive, global, and radical ways today.


Complicating “Revitalization:" Understanding How Urban LGBT Communities Impact Metropolitan Neighborhoods

Rueben Forman (Mellon Mays thesis)

My research is looking at how LGBTQ populations affect gentrification and urban development in city neighborhoods. In particular my project focuses on the greater Washington D.C. neighborhood of U Street Corridor and Shaw, which is situated between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue North West. This historic African-American neighborhood, which host many important cultural landmarks, is also the site of a growing visible gay white population. By analyzing the discourses surrounding gay men and their effect on the physical and social environments in the U Street Corridor/Shaw, I will explore the impact the introduction of a visible white gay male enclave has on this historically African American neighborhood? How did the introduction of a visible white population in a historically African American neighborhood impact the process of urban development and ever changing identity politics in the District of Columbia?


The Puerto Rico Flexibility Plan Following No Child Left Behind and Its Effects on School Principals in Priority Schools in the San Juan Region

Katina Garcia-Hermida

The purpose of this study is to explore whether the Puerto Rico Flexibility Plan, which provided waivers to Puerto Rico on certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, has impacted the role of school principals in the lowest-performing (Priority) schools in San Juan, the most urbanized region on the island. This study also aims to shed light on the perceptions principals have of their role at their schools, and whether this changed with the recently implemented Flexibility Plan. Analysis of the Flexibility Plan and associated legislation, as well as semi-structured interviews with five school principals of San Juan Priority Schools demonstrated that although the Flexibility Plan was created with the purpose of providing differentiated support to the lowest-performing schools, principals still felt overworked and overburdened. 


Getting Out: Women in Transition

Abby Gordon (Honors thesis) 

The United States has the highest prison population in the world, with over 2 million individuals who are currently incarcerated and almost 5 million under some form of supervisory or custodial control of the criminal justice system. Since the 1980s the amount of women in prison has risen 700%. This dramatic rise in women going to prison means that there is also a significant increase in those transitioning back into society once released. However, 66% of women released are re-arrested within three years. “Getting Out: Women in Transition” explores this transitional period, asking why the recidivism rate is so high and what would make the transition process more successful for specifically women. I interviewed two previously incarcerated women about their journeys and what it means for them to be successful. I found that women’s issues upon re-entry are magnified by the necessity to support their family in combination with finding employment and housing, in addition to often battling with addiction. However, these challenges can be significantly alleviated through the productive creation of relationships and the correct transitional programming, leading to a significant decrease in the recidivism rate and an increase in women leading successful lives.

This article is interspersed with videos of the two women that I interviewed in order to allow for their voices to be heard, not just quoted. With the help of Dave Walsh and the greater American Culture Studies department, I was able to create a website in which to display my article and the videos in an easily relatable and comprehensive medium. I wanted my thesis to reach people and I believe that this combination of the written word, videos and online access is the most beneficial way to do so in an academic setting.


Making the Myth: The Racialized Legacy of Voter Fraud in St. Louis, Missouri

Natalie Kirchhoff (Honors thesis)

This thesis examines a prominent example of the "myth of voter fraud" from the November 2000 election in St. Louis, Missouri and evaluates its ongoing political, legal, and cultural ramifications for voters of color. In the twenty-first century, voter fraud has been proven as virtually nonexistent across the United States. Despite this evidence, a divisive partisan debate over the purported threat of illegal voting still shrouds American elections, now motivating state-level legislation that―under the guise of protecting electoral integrity―often serves to limit the voting abilities of minority voters. In this thesis, I examine the cultural and political legacy of modern limitations on African-American voting access in order to reveal how the myth of voter fraud was created and made believable in St. Louis. In the first chapter, I demonstrate how misadministration and institutional bias from the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners resulted in the disproportionate removal of African-American residents from the city's voter registration rolls. However, the realities of this disenfranchisement were later obfuscated by a partisan narrative of voter fraud that emerged in the wake of a controversial election cycle. I then examine the falsity of these voter fraud rumors in the second chapter, identifying three critical, racially-influenced factors that made accusations of fraud in St. Louis appear plausible. In the final chapter, I analyze legislative and judicial responses to this voter fraud myth, specifically focusing on the legal battle over Missouri's 2006 voter identification law. While the law was ultimately deemed unconstitutional, I demonstrate how the Missouri Supreme Court's failure to specifically acknowledge the suppressive effects that voter fraud accusations and photo identification legislation have on voters of color―a determination that has been both replicated and refuted across the country in the years since―represents a continuation of the United States' legacy of African-American voter suppression. As the nationwide debate over the integrity of American elections and voter identification legislation continues, this thesis thus offers insight into how systemic racial biases still saliently animate the modern narrative of voter fraud.


Before Forty Acres: Reparations for Slavery in the Revolutionary Era

Will Krueger (Honors thesis)

In this thesis, I aim to contribute to scholarship that considers reparations for African Americans as an independently significant concept in American history and culture. I adopt the social movements historiographical frame to investigate the two earliest examples of reparative payments to African Americans, both of which occurred in the Revolutionary Era, decades before the Civil War. In the first chapter, I investigate the Pennsylvania Quakers' reparative program, which began in 1776 and was motivated by spiritual beliefs, internal activism, and institutional advocacy. In the second chapter, I analyze a series of African-American petitions for emancipation and reparations delivered to the Massachusetts Legislature between 1773 and 1783. I pay particular attention to the arguments and social movement for reparations, and to Anthony Vassall's 1781 petition and Belinda Royall's 1783 petition, which both prompted the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to become the first American government to pay reparations for slavery. The introduction and conclusion connect these two earliest examples of reparations to the present-day reparations debate. I argue that each example represents a distinct strain of reparations thought and activism that is echoed in today’s efforts. The Quakers’ expansive, self-critical, and community-building program is echoed by advocates of a broad national program with spiritual or transformative potential, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Massachusetts example is echoed in individualistic, narrow conceptions of reparations which seek to use political avenues to gain justice for victims of discrete wrongs. The most notable modern example of this strain is the reparations paid by the State of Florida in 1994 in response to the 1922 Rosewood Riots. I hope to expand understanding of the history of reparations in America and contextualize the current debate.


Disability in the Spotlight: Television and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Gaby Lee

For my Capstone project, I examine our cultural understanding of disability—specifically the developmental disability Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—through the lens of entertainment TV, using The Big Bang Theory and Community as case studies. My work will echo how our media portrayal of ASD informs our knowledge of the disability and, unfortunately, frames ASD as an ominous disorder that needs to be either silenced or cured. I examine how the specific representations of Sheldon Cooper and Abed Nadir display a larger cultural working that is contributing to a miseducation and misunderstanding of ASD in the American psyche.

I argue that mainstream media is an active agent in contributing to popular conceptions of the disabled population, and I will utilize representation as a lens of analysis. I highlight the history of ASD and its treatment throughout mainstream cultural discourses; further, I showcase how media representations engage with real-life consequences for the lived experience of the disabled population in terms of social status, access to diverse opportunities, and treatment. Thus, my project has both theoretical and practical applications. This work falls under the umbrella of disability studies, however it is multidisciplinary by nature. I interlace disability studies with media studies, and include research from the medical and psychological fields, as well as transcripts of TV creators’ and actors’ interviews; finally, I connect my analysis to dominant discourses from leading organizations like Autism Speaks and personal narratives from ASD individuals in order to construct a holistic examination, placing both able-bodied and disabled voices in conversation.

My Capstone not only serves as a culmination of my previous coursework examining social issues through media studies as a Visual, Material, and Digital Cultures concentration, but also it dovetails my personal life through both my work and family experiences. From both growing up with a cousin on the spectrum as well as working in the field of TV production, I have a unique lens for which to investigate this subject. Thus, my Capstone serves as a personal and comprehensive probe into the realities of the disabled community, seeking to flip damaging narratives of fear and mystery to value and acceptance.


Dos Mundos y un Desafío: The Latinx Mental Health Experience in the Home and at Washington University in St. Louis

Itzel Lopez-Hinojosa (Honors thesis)

To articulate the challenges that children of immigrants or acculturated Latinx face when negotiating between two different cultures as it relates to mental health, I conducted individual interviews with current Washington University students or alumni that self-identity as Latinx or Hispanic, and are currently living, or have in the past lived, with mental illness, whether diagnosed or not. I asked interviewees to describe their mental illness, family dynamics, definition of mental health/illness, the role gender and culture on mental health, and resources/coping strategies they have used.

Primarily, I documented the experience of children of immigrants or Latinx students with mental health. My analysis unpacked narratives and showed a connection between how mental health definitions, perceptions, and assumptions dictate the terms and represent limitations. Social psychological and intergenerational conflicts are discussed and examined in this thesis. My research shows the impact that acculturation gaps have on familial dynamics. Additionally, cultural understandings of gender and identity are connected an individual’s perception of self and of mental health care. Finally, interviewees disclosed their various forms of self-care which vary greatly from each other.

To contextualize the topic, the following lenses are used; medical anthropology to understand culture, sociology to understand structural barriers, history to understand the effect of colonialism legacy, and psychology to understand the effects of acculturation.

On the macro level, this thesis produced intervention strategies that will enable Washington University to better serve their Latinx population. On the micro level, it will empower a marginalized community and bring to light a topic that is rarely talked about. Additionally, through this study we can better understand the lived experience of Latinx students and learn how to best support them through our daily interactions.  My research complicates the dialogue around mental health for Latinx, as it focuses not on the risk factors, but on the experience, and the familial, and the college life interactions with mental health.


Dreams Deferred: The Life and Death of Kinloch, Missouri

Billie Mandelbaum (Honors thesis)

Kinloch, Missouri is an all-black suburb located twelve miles northwest of downtown St. Louis. In 1948, Kinloch incorporated, becoming Missouri's first all-black city and the oldest politically independent African American community west of the Mississippi River. Despite once being home to over 6,000 African Americans, today Kinloch is largely abandoned; its estimated population is 215 people. Kinloch's derelict appearance may seem like another eyesore on Metropolitan St. Louis' blighted landscape. However, as this thesis demonstrates, the story of Kinloch is not one of inevitable urban decay. Instead, I argue that racist politics and government policies spurred the development and destruction of one of America's few African American suburbs. I trace Kinloch's history from its development as an all-white streetcar suburb in the late 1800s to its eventual demise in the 1980s as a result of a failed redevelopment plan associated with the expansion of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. By analyzing primary source documents including early twentieth century real estate advertisements, archival newspaper articles, and government records, I illuminate how recurrent racism and discrimination came to create, maintain, and destroy Missouri's first all-black suburb. Following Kinloch's history from its development to its decline demonstrates how vulnerable black communities are to destruction, and how that destruction becomes naturalized. 

Through this study, I seek to alter scholarly conceptions about American suburbs and the relationship between suburbanization and urban decline. Rather than accept conceptions about suburbs as being white, prosperous outgrowths of black, decaying urban cities, I demonstrate how the presumably "urban" issues of race, poverty, and even violence transformed the suburban landscape, thus subverting the urban-suburban dichotomy. While scholars have deemed the "suburbanization of poverty" and emergence of "suburban ghettoes" to be relatively new demographic trends, the story of Kinloch suggests that this is not a new phenomenon. Although Kinloch is a disappearing city—its history largely erased from the public and academic record—valuable lessons for understanding contemporary metropolitan areas lie beneath the community's ruins. 


While You Were Tweeting: A History of Sharknado’s Love Affair with Media, American Politics, and Popular Culture

Natalie Martinez

Four years after its first airing, Sharknado has become a regular household name synonymous with trash and Twitter. In 2013, Sharknado elongated its intended life cycle as part of the mass production of Syfy B-movies by accidentally becoming a runaway hit on social media with millions of estimated Twitter impressions, but just under 1.4 million viewers. The popularity of the first film online lead to an increase in subsequent airings, spawned multiple sequels, and wooed cultural critics and entertainment media alike in its ability to maintain cultural relevance. However, as 2016 approached, the discourse involving Sharknado was no longer surrounding the text; rather, “sharknado” became a term in media associated with cultural and political absurdity arising from the presidential election. This project looks at the Sharknado franchise as a crossover text between entertainment, news, and social media, and contextualizes its cultural significance as a reactionary product of a dissonance between pop culture discourse and a mainstream conception of white American national identity. By outlining the gender and national identity politics of absurdity in the first three Sharknado films, I examine the way the politics of the films are queered by the franchise’s Twitter handle through memes and live tweeting in order to represent the arena of its social media audience. I also discuss the expansion of the diegesis of the franchise into a multimedia collaboration through cameo culture and genre studies, claiming that Sharknado does not actually contain its own cinematic universe, but rather, is a composition of paracinematic nondiegetic elements imposed over nonfiction reality. I then trace the political significance through three components: (1) political figures with cameos in Sharknado 3; (2) the mobilization of Sharknado content by politicians and political organizations; and (3) the use of “sharknado” in political journalism, specifically with respect to coverage related to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Culminating the aforementioned claims, I look at Sharknado as its own discourse against the grain of an increasingly identity focused pop culture discourse. Ultimately, my main argument is that Sharknado’s cultural significance lies in its reactionary recentering of pop culture discourse on apolitical standards of quality.


Go Big or Go Home: Unpacking the Hierarchical Political Rhetoric of Donald Trump

Jacob Metz (Honors thesis)

Though presidential candidates have always contextualized contemporary issues and themselves within a broader narrative to show why they alone can handle the presidency, one future president relied almost exclusively on his biography to stress why he possessed the skills needed to be successful in the position: Donald Trump. Unlike any other major party nominee or president in American presidential history, Trump relied on status-based rhetoric to present himself as personally and professionally superior to others, from celebrities to other presidential candidates. By utilizing his Twitter account as a platform and performing at his campaign rallies in a manner akin to that of a stand-up comic, Trump presented himself as an appealing and plausible presidential candidate by employing the same rhetorical strategies he used as a reality television star.

To address this phenomenon, I rhetorically analyze different Trump tweets and moments during his campaign rallies to present a holistic view of his political rhetoric. These tweets allow for a more extensive portrait of how Trump uses insults to position himself as an individual who possesses more skills and is inherently superior to others. I ultimately argue that Trump uses hierarchical rhetoric to assert his own status over others, making every single political argument about his own status, meaning status is the ultimate metric of what it takes to be the President of the United States. Ultimately, I chose this topic because of my interest in political rhetoric and my curiosity about why certain political messages resonate in contemporary American political culture over others. Though I initially set out to understand how Barack Obama, Black Lives Matter, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump were impacting American politics, I settled on dissecting how Trump currently impacts modern American political culture and shapes our contemporary political moment.


 #Trending: A Guide to Social Media Marketing

Taylor Ohman

For my capstone project I explored the effects of social media's growing influence on modern marketing practices. I chose this topic because it allowed me to bring together my professional and academic experience as well as my personal interests in one piece. I also recognized a lack of marketing strategy material that has been adapted or created to address how social media’s growth has truly revolutionized the consumer-brand relationship. Using the knowledge I have gained from my graduate and undergraduate studies, my professional experience, pre-existing academia, and observational/analytical research, I created a guide for new and existing businesses on how to utilize social media to increase brand visibility and a loyal consumer base. The strategy presented adapts traditional marketing practices to the modern age of social media and combines the multiple disciplines of: consumer psychology, brand development, media studies, and business strategy. The work not only explores the effect of social media’s growth on modern consumer behavior but uses this information to advise brands on how to utilize such social media to grow and connect with consumers in a whole new way.


Signs of the Wellston Loop

Emma Riley


 “Signs of the Wellston Loop” uses stop motion animation to visualize changes in the signs of the Wellston Loop over the course of the last 60 years. Individually, these signs bear the histories of homes and businesses. Collectively, they reveal a history of the neighborhood as a whole. This history involves maintenance and improvement as well as negligence and decay. My intention with “Signs of the Wellston Loop” is to document both of these forces and to underscore that there is hope in blight.

I have always liked looking at signs for the cultural meanings they bear. Signs reveal what people have to sell and can afford to buy. They reveal what people are given, denied, and make for themselves. In their physical form, signs show whether a business is doing well or suffering, and they bear traces of past businesses: letters faded or painted over or missing altogether. I chose to study the Wellston Loop because I was familiar with the area and felt captivated by the signs I saw there. They gave me at once a sense of pain, history and hope.

The majority of my research took the form of structured individual interviews. Because the Wellston Loop was considered blighted by the early 1970’s, it was difficult to find photographs of specific signs during the period I was interested in. To gather this information, I conducted interviews with the business owners who grew up in the area. I asked them how their buildings and signs had changed, what businesses predated theirs, and the approximate dates of these changes. I studied other representations of landscape to inform my understanding of the area. The resulting animation is a study in typography, landscape, and history. It situates signs in place and time, and it highlights the unique role of the sign in each place’s history and culture.

Scholars and artists alike have documented the history of the Wellston Loop landscape. Most of this coverage focuses on the decay of the neighborhood. My representation includes decay, but it devotes equal attention to the businesses operating, and sometimes thriving, in the Wellston Loop. In most visual representations of Wellston, people compare past photos of buildings to their contemporary equivalents. Though this contrast is powerful, it glosses over the process of getting from one point to the next. “Signs of the Wellston Loop” uses stop motion animation to illustrate signs as they are being made and destroyed, clarifying how human beings engendered the neighborhood we see today.

The format of my animation required looking closely at the physical landscape. In doing so, I realized that buildings offer us glimpses of the past, rarely revealing the full image to us unless we keep looking. I saw the last three letters of a word, “IDE,” painted on a building, with a different brick pattern laid where the beginning of the word once was. I learned from Big Reg at G & D Hauling L.L.C. that the front of the building caved in and was rebuilt, bringing most of the sign with it. I also learned that the sign came from a glass-cutting company, but when I researched the building later, I found that the previous businesses were listed as “Kirn Auto Supply Co” (1924) and later “Major Auto Parts” (1961), neither of which were glass-cutters or contained the letters “IDE.” I never determined the sign’s full message. I saw a mortar seam on the side of a building delineating two different brick patterns, which tapered and disappeared near the top of the building. I learned from architect Andrew Raimist that the seam, located next to two gas meters, likely originated from running electrical or gas piping up the wall. Old buildings offer us countless mysteries such as these, but I rarely noticed them before.

The animated format of my capstone offers unique benefits and limitations compared to the traditional research paper. In a research paper, the author is expected to prime the reader to her argument, stating assumptions, offering definitions, and unpacking historical context. In creative work, authors should strip away priming material and begin at the most compelling content, and I applied this practice to my animation. In a research paper, the author is expected to explicitly state her thesis. Though creative work should be just as purposeful and focused, explicitly stating this purpose is didactic and often unnecessary. To avoid an overly explicit approach, I chose to communicate my message of hope by carefully curating the images and audio of the animated short.

Throughout my time in American Culture Studies, I have explored the ways in which art and design communicate cultural messages. Working on “Signs of the Wellston Loop” has allowed me to study the cultural messages of one art form and communicate cultural messages through another, empowering me to become a cultural creator and activist.


Flight, Concentrated Disadvantage and Incentive

Jeremy Smith

The American metropolis has been a perpetual object of interest for academics and quotidian observers alike. In this paper, I examine inequality, neighborhoods, flight and concentrated disadvantage – particularly, how they operate and how these operations occurred in St. Louis. I then build off this knowledge and the scholarship of others to propose one sustainable solution to concentrated disadvantage. I argue that what is both insurmountable and most responsible for concentrated disadvantage is social disorder combined with economically and racially selective opportunity for flight. This is because flight creates almost indestructible economic and social disparity, which reinforces itself. Therefore, attempts to reduce concentrated disadvantage should focus on reducing economically or racially “wealthy” flight from struggling neighborhoods – or limit its effects. To make this solution sustainable, however, one must create change in the incentive structure of individuals such that changing neighborhoods does not provide a marginal amount of benefit. This would come in the form of access to fair housing, expanding and consolidating economic and political municipalities, and most importantly, giving material reward to incentivize the aforementioned process. To validate these claims, I draw on sociological, political and economic works. Sampson’s Great American City and Gordon’s Mapping Decline are both sociological books, however, they are more truly long-form sociological treatises. I draw on the context they lay themselves, as well as their rich data sets to quantitatively construct a model of neighborhoods. Then, I build off of Bénabou, Roithmayr and Orfields’ scholarship, as well as my economic knowledge obtained in my disciplinary foundations, to propose a solution to the problems that Sampson and Gordon describe. Using a sociological, quantitative foundation for a political/economic proposal is appropriate, for it establishes conditions – necessary to any line of economic thinking, and any broad claim. This multidisciplinary approach proved useful, for while initially sociological studies illuminated the social dynamics for an economic model and solution, the aforementioned solution in turn revealed individual motive perhaps fueling the aforementioned social dynamics. My findings provide the blueprint to some of Orfield’s aims, and provide a link between his work, Bénabou’s, and Sampsons’; this will hopefully be of use to policy-makers in the future. Moreover, it is a product of applying my studies to my interests. I have always been interested in the intersection between the material world and social/political/economic dynamics (before declaring an AMCS major, I studied architecture for 2.5 years). This is evident in my studies and this paper. Spurred by Professor Hansman’s “Community Building” course, I drew upon my knowledge from some psychology coursework, a public policy course, various economic courses, and finally an AMCS grounding to delve into neighborhoods and their mechanics.


Washington University’s Situational Identity Crisis: Incentives for Economic Diversity Initiatives in Elite Higher Education

Nina Stoller

The purpose of my Senior Project in American Culture Studies is to use Washington University’s journey towards greater economic diversity as a case study in the administrative decision making processes that enable these types of large changes at elite, private universities. I ask why the administration announced its policy change specifically in 2015 to be completed specifically by 2020, why the administration chose 13% Pell-eligibility as their benchmark, what changed in the infrastructure to support the decision, how the whole initiative was funded, and if the new policy represents a dramatic restructuring of the University’s priorities. In addition, I hope to understand why and how Washington University in St. Louis mirrored policy trends at peer institutions, and the extent to which this behavior was affected by student activism, competition from peer institutions, and economic, social, and political factors. I am also interested in which internal or external leaders were involved in the decision to admit more low-income students and what kind of strategies these leaders used to support their claims. Washington University’s announcement to admit 13% Pell-eligible students by the incoming 2020 freshmen class will hereon be referred to as The 2020 Goal.

My objective is not to definitively argue causality behind The 2020 Goal because doing so is both impossible and uninteresting. I instead focus my analysis on how the participants I interview make sense of and choose to narrate both why Wash U increased economic diversity when it did and the processes the school relied on to get there. Because I am telling a story of change, in which surprises and personal relationships are inherently intertwined, I choose to interject the intellectual journey I went through along the way.


The Future of the Live Sporting Event: How Advancements to Sports Media Are Shaping Consumption Habits

Alex Squadron

As a passionate sports fan, I focused my research on the conflict between enhancements to the mediatized experience (i.e. watching something on television) and the future of live sporting events. Each and every day, our world is increasingly permeated by the media, as it continues to shape our cultural and social institutions in profound ways. I found that my topic is crucial to an understanding of contemporary American culture. With technology growing more and more integrated into daily life, it is important to reflect on how this trend is impacting long lasting (and seemingly authentic) traditions, such as attending sporting events. On a broader level, this essay is about the conflict between technology and reality or “liveness.”

I have been fortunate enough to attend many sports games throughout my life, building an appreciation for this kind of experience. Since I felt such a strong connection to this subject, I employed personal anecdotes and a journalistic writing style to set the framework for the project. I used my unique relation to generate more questions, such as: how can something I value so highly be threatened so critically by technology?

Through additional secondary source research, such as an investigation of Philip Auslander’s Liveness, I discovered that the mediatized and the live experiences are deeply interwoven, not just competing with each other but also responding to and interacting with each other in various ways. As time has passed, the distinctions between these two experiences have begun to collapse. This development will only continue as better technology is produced.

Unlike prior texts detailing this relationship, my project focuses solely on how technological advancements in the world of digital media have impacted the sporting event. Thus, it combines an investigation of the mediatized and the live with an analysis of what it means to be a sports fan, and why fans – like myself – seem to value being present at specific games.

Within AMCS, I have actively pursued courses that focus on two of my greatest passions: sports and writing. This project reflects an amalgamation of these passions. It includes research-based information that greatly advanced my understanding of a vital issue to the world of sports; and it features stories from my past that allowed me to more freely explore my fascination with writing. Going forward, I plan to continue merging these interests, hopefully working in the sports journalism industry.


The (Im)Possibilities of Non-Monogamy: Quare Revisions and Poly-Capacity Building

Jordan Victorian (Mellon Mays thesis)

The monogamous couple forms a primary vehicle through which society, the nation, and ultimately our futures are reproduced. As a regime of regulation, compulsory monogamy discourages non-normative intimate practices through both reward and reprimand. Monogamy structures our society and breeds myopia toward other ways of being. Many scholars of race, feminism, and queer theory have long challenged compulsory monogamy as a site of regulating desire. Yet literature on consensual non-monogamy often under-analyzes how structures of power affect intimacies. Meanwhile, racial and ethnic studies often reinforce normalizing ideas of monogamy and ‘appropriate’ sexual behaviors, stifling queer potential within these deviant practices. Bridging conversations between these fields, this project focuses on constructions of consensual non-monogamies among people of color, contextualized within a larger context of compulsory monogamy and heteronormativity. Using data from 18 semi-structured interviews with queers of color in St. Louis, I examine processes of “poly-capacity building” among non-monogamous persons: development of skills and competencies that enable people to practice non-monogamy. I argue that in performing their non-normative desires, many of the folks with whom I speak develop erotic subjectivities to understand themselves outside of dominant, or “deviant” paradigms. In a process of quare cultural production, this consciousness both develops from and facilitates active revisions of majoritarian sexual culture, as individuals negotiate dominant social structures and their own desires. Ultimately, this project works toward building more fluid futures for any of us feeling and enacting our desires—whether through monogamous intimacies, multi-partner arrangements, or maybe even something beyond.