During her undergraduate years, Deetra Roulhac immersed herself in the vibrant spoken-word poetry scene in Berkeley bars and cafes, actively participating in this performance art. She reluctantly left her passion for poetry behind in the Bay area when she moved on with her life.
A number of years later, Roulhac’s interest in spoken-word and slam poetry was rekindled with the advent of the late-night television series Def Poetry Jam, which featured new and eminent poets, “spoken word-ers” and celebrities.
“During the seasons from 2001 to 2007, I could sit and enjoy spoken word again, even for just 30 minutes a week, while the kids were sound asleep. Watching performances on TV wasn’t quite the same experience as being at the Red Café during my college years, but the show reconnected me with this world,” Roulhac said.
As part of her Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) course with Judith Halberstam, professor of English, American studies and ethnicity and gender studies, Roulhac investigated the origins of spoken-word poetry and explored the impact of its popularity resulting from the Def Poetry Jam television series and the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. Roulhac then expanded this work into her thesis-equivalent MLS summative project, which was the basis of a presentation she gave at the Fourth Annual Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium held June 25-27 at Reed College.
Roulhac was among 43 students and alumni from eight graduate liberal studies programs who were selected to present research findings.
“This is the third year in which the USC Master of Liberal Studies program has been a sponsoring university of this symposium, and each year we have had MLS students selected to give presentations,” said James R. Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Professor of English and chair of the MLS faculty board. “The selection process has become quite competitive, so we consider it an honor for our students as well as our program that USC has continued to be represented in the presentations.”
Another presenter from the USC program was current MLS student Jeri Schuessler-Loynachan. Her presentation was based on work she did in the MLS course “Acts of Interpretation: Literature, Film, and Methodologies” taught by Tania Modleski, Florence R. Scott Professor of English.
“I analyzed how Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic techniques in his 1946 espionage film Notorious heightens the viewer’s sense of manipulation while dramatizing the characters’ manipulation of one another as the plot unfolds,” Schuessler-Loynachan explained. She added, “My appreciation and understanding of cinematic techniques has been greatly enhanced with the critical analysis gained through my liberal studies courses.”
“The symposium provides graduate liberal students, alumni and faculty from a diverse range of institutions with a wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from one another, and allows us all to celebrate their endeavors and accomplishments. We at Reed College have been very enthusiastic about hosting this year’s symposium, and we had an engaging, enlightening and fun weekend,” said Barbara Amen, director of Reed’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.
Roulhac and Schuessler-Loynachan found the symposium to be an exhilarating experience. “Preparing to give a talk at an academic symposium helped me hone my public speaking skills,” said Schuessler-Loynachan. Roulhac agreed, adding “I was thrilled to share my work and get reactions from many others from different liberal studies programs. After graduating from the MLS program in May, this symposium was the icing on the cake of broadening experiences I’ve had in the MLS program.”
The USC College Master of Liberal Studies program offers multidisciplinary graduate studies for professional development or personal enrichment. Evening seminar-style classes once a week are designed for the working professional. MLS students also receive individual mentoring from USC College faculty and enjoy camaraderie with diverse classmates.