February 4, 2004
Professor urges students to tackle social issues, change
By Josh Francis
USC Daily Trojan Staff Writer
Professor Tara McPherson is the chair of the critical studies division of the school of cinema-television.
Future of the community and son are what matters to professor Tara McPherson.
Students need to become more actively involved in issues relating to the community and social change, USC Professor Tara McPherson told a group of more than 70 students and faculty members Wednesday afternoon.
“Students need to get together to set an agenda on what needs social change,” she said.
Students care, faculty members care and USC should step out. she said. Social change can indeed be fixed.
McPherson, professor of gender studies, chair of the school of cinema-television’s critical studies division and the co-editor of anthologies on new technology, is the second speaker to participate in the semester series, “What Matters to Me and Why.”
“When asked what matters to me today, I have a one-word response: Dexter,” she said, referring to her 21-month-old son. “But I knew I needed to think of something less corny of a response for this discussion.”
More specifically, she talked about the future of the community.
“Social justice matters more than ever now because it is a word that will be left to my son,” she said. “If I would have been standing here three years ago, I might have said something very different than I would have today.”
On the newly relocated stage in the east corner of Ground Zero, McPherson spoke calmly and with charismatic passion for her beliefs, reflecting on her past experiences of living in the Deep South as a tool to help promote action and change.
McPherson addressed some of the issues facing the community.
“We can change the world around us,” she said.
Neighborhoods still bear issues related to equality and balance. President Bush has presented a cut in the budget that will affect low-income schools in Los Angeles, rich and poor gaps have widened and income of people in America is less for minorities than in the 1960s, she said.
Growing up in Louisiana during the Civil Rights Movement, she became a pre-medical student at a small liberal arts college in the South, but quickly changed majors after becoming interested in feminism and gender studies.
She transferred to Wisconsin for graduate school and wrote her doctoral dissertation on exploring southern culture as an individual nation, culminating in her book, “Reconstructing Dixie.”
She is also the founding organizer of “Race in Digital Space,” a multi-year project that includes conferences and exhibits focusing on issues of convergence, race and representation in film and television.
McPherson teaches courses on television, news media and contemporary popular culture. Her writing appears in journals including “Camera Obscura,” The Velvet Light Trap,” “Discourse” and “Screen.”
McPherson said her academic and personal lives have never been separated.
“Academic endeavors are always partisan,” McPherson said. “They reflect how we do our research and how we see the world,” she said.
In teaching her classes, McPherson said she has “past-left,” or ultra-left, political views, yet she is honest about them with her students.
USC will continue to foster change in a good way, she said.
“Our research can help change Los Angeles locally, and to change policy in a larger sense,” she said.
McPherson mentioned organizations like Student Senate and SCALE (Students Committee Against Labor Exploitation) as great places for students to get involved and to encourage changes in the local community.
“Resist the ease of complacency,” she said. “Get mad about it and get involved in changing something … channel anger, and don’t channel surf,” she said.
“It’s so interesting, I learned a lot,” said Rabbi Susan Laemmie, dean of Religious Life, of McPherson’s talk.
“She is a politically and socially involved person, and it’s neat.”
Laemmie also said that although the Office of Religious Life sponsors the event, students of all creeds are encouraged to attend.
“We ask professors to reflect on their lives,” she said. “We want these discussions to be personal and not like a lecture.”
Many in McPherson’s audience said they enjoyed her discussion.
“I enjoyed her sharing her past,” said Lisa Holl, a senior in the School of Policy, Planning and Development.
Holl said she also lives in a community where she can live out her ideals.
Paul Kovich, undergraduate political science advisor, who also attended McPherson’s discussion, said, “Professors really open up during these talks,” he said.
“It is really interesting to hear what they have to say.”
Copyright 2004 by the Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Vol. 151, No. 16 (Thursday, February 5, 2004), beginning on page 1 and ending on page 10.