When the inevitable question comes — “What do you do with American Culture Studies?” — I always present a canned, prepared answer, but one that rings true all the same. “I learn to understand the world around me and act accordingly.”
I think of my time in the AMCS department at Wash. U. as the bedrock for all of the projects and organizations I have become involved in during my undergraduate years. For one example, my AMCS capstone is a fictional exploration of a world where athletes are not allowed to protest. For another example, my involvement in the Civic Scholars program initially grew out of and was informed by my studies in AMCS.
To elaborate on the capstone, creating a dystopian world with its own culture, its own rules, and its own unique personality more than relies on a solid understanding of the present and past. To project how America would be given these constraints, I needed to know how America imposed constraints on itself. Through my classes on race, photography, literature, etc., I was able to develop an understanding of how America reacted to injustice and what the documentation of that injustice resembled. My action then was built off an understanding.
Outside of AMCS, there is my involvement in the Civic Scholars program, a scholarship that awards money to undergraduates so that they may institute of community engagement project of their choice. My project became an exploration of mental health crisis and how police and crisis line responses differ. Again, the foundation of understanding was critical to my involvement in the program. Without steeping my knowledge in American culture, I wouldn’t have been able to so quickly understand the other ties of race, age, and immigrant status to the American response of mental health. My project could be more holistic and inclusive as a result of my studies.
I look forward to the inevitable question as an AMCS student because I know the idea of understanding often escapes people. We tend to focus so much on practicality that we neglect the degree of knowledge that must underlie a practical decision. AMCS instills the knowledge, but as students of culture, we must still use that foundation for action.