By Guest Contributor Tressie McMillan Cottom, cross-posted from The Feminist Wire
Most of us have seen the ads exhorting us to “call today!” to start on a new future with a college degree. How many of us have noticed the faces in those ads?
The gender, race, and affect of the faces and voices in for-profit college marketing are the kinds of things I notice in the course of my research about schools like Strayer, Everest, the University of Phoenix and any number of name brands that seem to pop up every month. We know a lot about how much for-profit colleges cost (as much as the most elite college degrees) and we know a little about whom they serve but we do not ask a lot about why they serve whom they serve.
It is difficult for me to not ask that question. I interview for-profit students to ask of them what many of us have asked ourselves when one of those ads pops up at the train station or on late-night TV: why would someone enroll in a for-profit school?
Tope Fadiran Charlton: With the NSR debacle I’ve been thinking about the over-scrutiny of Black Studies and black scholars (and black people in general). It seems to me that in public and scholarly discourse we’re always on the defense, while by comparison whiteness is under-examined both in the public sphere and in academic circles. What are your thoughts on that?
Tressie McMillan Cottom: To the binary of offense-defense might I also add the third, implicit position: taken-for-grantedness. The idea that there is some knowledge whose superiority is assumed and, thus, is never engaged in playing either defense or offense is particularly interesting to me. In this way, Black Studies shares a similar subordinate position with many other disciplines (liberal arts, Ethnic Studies, language studies, etc.).
Fadiran Charlton: I’ve also been thinking about who has access to important platforms like CHE and how they use them, who’s visible and has the weight and credibility of established media outlets behind them (like NSR taking her crocodile tears to Fox and WSJ, e.g.).
McMillan Cottom: This is what I really want to explore. It’s what I try to get at in my latest (and last!) post on the whole situation. I will add that I think the current decline of traditional media offers a narrow, but nonetheless present, opportunity to reconfigure the distribution hierarchy.
Also interesting: the way the framing of the story became about one white woman’s aggrieved feelings. I’m not sure if that is a function of modern media essentially cutting and pasting every previous story and calling it “news” or if it’s the phenomenon bell hooks and others term “white woman victimhood.” It’s likely both. And, again, those with different opinions have no recourse in reshaping the narrative.