Unusual classes provide break from the daily grind

By Jim Vorel

All college students will suffer through a boring class or two. Mind-numbing, humdrum classes are part of the experience, much like awkwardly standing in front of the Alma Mater and waiting for your parents to snap a photo for the fourth year in a row. Without such vapid classes, students might never learn the finer points of sleeping while sitting up or become a master doodler by developing the talent they’ve always had.

However, there are more interesting classes hidden in the course catalog. A recent entry on the Web site of popular magazine Mental Floss made a listing of “12 College Classes We Wish Our Schools Had Offered,” with the University of Illinois ranking No. 5 with “History 298: Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon.”

Taught by Juliet E.K. Walker, the class focused on the rise of Winfrey from anonymity to being one of the most powerful media figures in the world. The class examined how Winfrey built a powerful multimedia empire and explored why so few other blacks have achieved the same status as cultural icons and economic powers. The class also discussed how celebrities could influence world economics in the same way as much larger social forces.

Unfortunately for fans of Oprah, the class is no longer offered at the University. Professor Walker has since left the University, and now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. She has pursued her interest in Oprah and has worked on two different books about Winfrey. Her latest is “Oprah Winfrey: An American Entrepreneur,” which has not yet been published.

Emily Zider, junior in LAS, said that she wished the University still offered the course and would have loved to take a class on Oprah.

“I think the empire Oprah built is fascinating, whether you see it as a good thing or a bad thing, there is no denying the power Oprah has on our country, specifically on women in the U.S.,” Zider said. “When she introduces a product on the show it instantly flies off the shelves.”

Zider said she would be interested in a class that looks at Oprah’s career, from how it started through the present day.

“Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon,” may have moved on, but there are still many other interesting classes at the University, one of which is “FSHN 517: Fermented and Distilled Beverages.” The bars are packed every weekend with students studying the alcoholic beverages which are the main subject of study for this particular class.

Or perhaps a student who is having relationship trouble might be interested in “HDFS 225: Close Relationships.” The University course catalog describes the course as discussing the “Initiation, development, and dissolution of committed relationships with same or opposite-sex partners within familial, cultural, and societal contexts.” In simpler terms, it’s a class about dating and about starting and ending relationships. Any student who already spends entire class periods thinking about their relationships can now apply it to their course work. A clever student might even pick up a date or two on the grounds of doing research for class.

Even pop culture can become the subject of a class. “COMM 320: Pop Culture” teaches students about the effects of the entertainment we see every day. Paula Treichler, the course professor, said that the 175 students who make up her class get an experience that is not likely to be able to be found anywhere else on campus.

“Today’s lecture is on the soap opera ‘General Hospital,'” Treichler said. “Specifically on an AIDS storyline that they do. The argument that we make in class is that the line between popular culture and ‘high culture’ has become obscured, and that pop culture can do more as an educational tool than most people think.”

Jorie Johnson, sophomore in Communications, is taking Pop Culture with Professor Treichler. She agreed that she had not realized how influential pop culture was in her everyday life.

“Television, magazines, movies; they all impact how we get information about our world,” Johnson said. “My favorite unit has been on how popular magazines influence our cultural expectations.”

More interesting classes are still out there, waiting for the perceptive student to find them in the University’s course catalog. With persistence, one can find classes on subjects ranging from animation, to race and sex, to the truly obscure. With a little work, most students should be able to find a class to keep them awake.