"How I Found American Studies"

Victor Benavides (Presidential Campaign Speech) 

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I know many were shocked last week when I announced my bid for the 2016 presidential race. Since then, I’ve been a trending topic on social media and Fox News. There’s been a lot of speculation about my past—especially about my time as a Notre Dame undergraduate—so I’m here to set the record straight. In particular, I want to address reports about my short stint in the Notre Dame School of 
Architecture. While I was in fact an Archie for less than a week, I want to whole-heartedly separate myself from the spin Fox News has decided to add to this story. In no way did my interest in architecture stem from an interest in building a wall at the US-Mexico Border. This claim is simply ridiculous and false, and I want to thank those supporters who have defended me on social media. 
 
 
However, the attacks on my character since this story’s break are what concern me even more. Having garnered a reputation as a notoriously proud American Studies major since my freshman year of undergrad, many have dubbed my one week stint in architecture “an affair.” Others have called me a “flip-flopper,” asking whether this might be a glimpse into how I work in office. To those critics, I say: Rest assured, I am not just another disingenuous politician. If anything, my venture into architecture taught me the importance of being sincere—sparking my return to the 10th Floor of Flanner Hall and the Department of American Studies. Now, let me explain why American Studies has prepared me so well for the Office of President. 
 
 
As a naive freshman, I entered the Notre Dame American Studies program believing that my burning love for country would be enough for me to be a critical American Studies scholar, and I was most excited at the prospect of figuring out the “answer” to a question at the heart of the field: What does it mean to be an American? As soon as the first meeting for my Intro course ended, I realized how misguided I was about the field. I was looking for cookie cutter, textbook-esque answers to complex, multilayered issues. As I developed into a more refined scholar, I learned that answering such questions was more about coming up with an argument—and it required me to navigate competing and often conflicting narratives. During my course of studies, I was trained to understand the cultural, political, and economic forces that play into everything I see and experience in the US. In other words, my American Studies background has informed me and also taught me to interpret all that is put before me. More concretely, I now think of the US as a transnational subject, understand the US-Mexico Border as both a place and cultural imagining, and gained valuable insight into systematic discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and sexuality—all which will 
prove valuable if I were elected president. 
 
 
In fact, one of the most rewarding processes I undertook as an undergraduate American Studies scholar was researching and writing a senior thesis. This capstone project, which focused on rap and black representation, meant so much to me because it allowed me to take my interest in music and ask serious questions about its power structure, representation of the black experience, and contributions to American culture. My 50+ page thesis is an example of my ability to navigate competing and conflicting narratives to develop a theory, and reflective of the work I plan to bring to the Oval Office. American Studies has shaped me into the leader I am today because I can no longer accept anything at face value—whether it’s an advertisement, a movie, or an article of clothing, I analyze everything in my environment as a cultural text, seeking intertextuality in order to understand deeper cultural significance and meaning. 
 
 
If there is one thing that has not wavered since undertaking American Studies it’s my burning love for this country. I feel the need to state this because many have called American Studies “anti-America Studies,” arguing that its scholars are overcritical of the US to the point where it has developed an anti-American tone. This notion is simply false. Sure, my studies have made me frustrated with our country’s failure to live up to its reputation as the land of liberty and justice, but does ignoring these historical realities actually help America? My decision to run for the Office of President stems for the deep love and concern I have for our country. I want to “Make America Great Again” by making the US a place accountable for the ideals its stands for. So, in order to build a “more perfect union,” get out and vote: Benavides-Do, 2016. 
 
(Crowd roars).
 
 

Gretel Kauffman (Mystery Noir) 

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It was a dark and stormy night in the spring of 2012 when she first strode across my computer screen. She was petite but attractive, with a nice set of course offerings and classes that went on for months. I’d seen her type before, but this major was different. “You’ve got to help me,” she pleaded, batting her long eyelashes. “I need to know what it means to be an American.”
 
“Now wait just a minute, dollface,” I said. “I don’t even know your name.” 
 
She sighed and looked away. “They call me American Studies.” 
 
I could tell she was trouble, but I was intruiged. Race? Gender? Politics? A whole class about Bob Dylan? She was irresistible, and she knew it. Besides, I was already investigating a case for Film, Television, and Theater, and it looked like the two might be related. First stop was the basement of Geddes Hall, where a broad by the name of Kathleen Cummings gave us the dirt on Native Americans, Irish immigrants, and Catholicism in America. It was all interesting, to be sure, but it only left me with more questions, like: What is the American dream? And who defines history? 
 
I wasn’t any closer to cracking the case, so I headed to another class. This one was run by some goon called Jason Ruiz, who gave me some unexpected but meaningful clues related to Latino representations in American films. After sitting through an entire class discussion about the significance of Jennifer Lopez’s caboose, I was hooked. 
 
I enrolled in another class, then another, then another. I especially got a kick out of the ones that dealt with race or pop culture representations. Before I knew it, I’d finished the major requirements – but was hardly any closer to solving the mystery of what it means to be an American. I started to think American Studies had made a patsy out of me. Was there even an answer to the question? Or had the lousy dame just been stringing me along this whole time? 
 
There was only one way to find out: I had to write a senior thesis. Before following that lead, I considered the clues I’d gathered so far. I liked researching journalism and the criminal justice system, and had a hunch I could apply what I’d learned about media representations and control over narratives to an event that had always interested me on a 
personal level. Little did I know what I was in for…
 
TO BE CONTINUED
 
 

Sarah Morris (NPR Fresh Air Interview) 

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Today’s Show: Sarah Morris
 
Terry Gross: From WHYY in our studios in Philadelphia, I’m Terry Gross and this is Frrresh Air. My guest today is 
Sarah Morris, a senior American Studies and Political Science major at the University of Notre Dame. Sarah, 
welcome to the show.
 
Sarah Morris: Terry, thanks so much for having me. I’ve listened to your show—powerlessly strapped to my 
booster seat in the backseat, pleading for Radio Disney instead—since a very young age, so I’m honored to 
now be a guest!
 
TG: I wanted to begin with a discussion of your first major at Notre Dame, American Studies, since it is such a 
unique area of study, and Political Science is basically just silly graphs and statistics anyway. How did you first 
become interested in American Studies?
 
SM: It really all began during my senior year of high school, when we were asked to fill out a brief form to 
determine possible majors. Much to my counselor’s dismay, my results suggested not just one or two majors, 
but a large handful: Sociology, History, Communications, Film Studies, Literature, and Political Science—I seemed to be interested in everything! This caused me great concern at first, for how could I possibly find a major that suited all of these fairly diverse interests? Not three days later, during our next College Counseling session, I discovered Notre Dame’s  American Studies website. I must say, what first drew me in was the banner atop the page that displayed a startling number of my favorite things: Rosie the Riveter, Clinton, Mandela, a peace sign, King, Malcolm X, MARTIN SHEEN/JED BARTLET! My interest was immediately piqued. As soon as I began exploring the course offerings, I knew that American Studies was exactly what I wanted to pursue. 
 
TG: You transferred to Notre Dame from Villanova after your first year. Did you study American Studies there as well?
 
Sarah: Villanova did not have an American Studies program, which was one of many reasons I planned to make the move to Notre Dame. Upon transferring to Notre Dame, the American Studies faculty were among some of the first to welcome me to campus, and the entire department made the transition an absolute joy. My first semester at Notre Dame, I enrolled in four American Studies courses, loved each one, and have never looked back.
 
TG: As you now embark on your final year at Notre Dame, what have been some of the highlights of your American Studies education, and how do you see yourself using American Studies in your future?
 
SM: First and foremost, the quality of instruction has been utterly superb. In every class I have taken, the professor has cared deeply about the course material, as well as the students’ engagement and success. This level of passion, along with what I find to be truly fascinating subject matter, has made studying “America” a very rich experience. I have been forced to question things I would have never even considered, break out of my comfort zone, examine elements of privilege and background within my own life experiences, and engage with our cultural fabric in a most dynamic fashion. As I prepare for the “real world,” I know that American Studies will have taught me both valuable lessons in themselves and how to think about the world in a way that will stick with me for life.