Kristen Warner gestures to a pie chart of data during the keynote presentation. Photo by Blake Ashby.

RHMS Symposium Highlights Politics in Sports and Media

The 4th Annual Pacific Northwest Race, Rhetoric and Media Symposium, “Don’t “Just Do It”: Politics in Sports and Popular Culture,” showcased student work focusing on the intersection of media, sports and public culture. Lewis & Clark hosted the symposium from Feb. 28 to March 2, in collaboration with Whitman College, the University of Puget Sound and Willamette University. “Just Do It” is an iconic phrase coined by Nike intended to inspire customers to follow their passions, yet this year’s symposium aimed to reveal the problematic media culture the message reflects.

Professor Kristen Warner from the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama spoke at the keynote presentation entitled “Don’t Just Do Representation: #AskforMore.” She explained how, unfortunately, the degree of diversity represented on screen has become synonymous with the quantity of difference rather than with the dimensionality of the performances. This kind of representation is what Warner calls “plastic representation,” or, in other words, visual diversity. Just because people of color may be cast in certain lead or supporting roles, this does not mean that the roles carry any cultural or historical depth and lived experiences of the minority group being portrayed on screen. Therefore, Warner asks us to ask for more from the representations of people of color and those creating them.

The symposium also included panels and discussions on crafting identity, pursuing social justice, creating a civil rights K-12 curriculum, exploring marginalized visions and expanding the discursive. Students and guest academic scholars shared their research on how people in America talk about race and how race is perceived in sports and popular culture.

Symposium Marketing Committee member Blake Ashby ’19 enjoyed Warner’s keynote presentation.

“It really opened my eyes into how the media makes it appear that they are becoming more diverse and casting more people of color when in reality they are doing it just to count the numbers,” Ashby said. “It’s exciting for the wider LC community to become more informed on the issue of studio executives pushing the quantity of representation over the quality. It is important that we are able to critically analyze the growing trend of plastic representation in media today.”

Symposium chair Audrey Gutierrez ’19 hoped that this symposium brought attention to the lack of diversity in popular culture and the frequent marginalization of people of color shown in media.

“This symposium covers the importance of representation in sports and popular culture, something which has too often been ignored,” Gutierrez said. “I’d like the community to consider the difference between how people of color are treated in sports and popular culture and the different standards they have to experience.”

Speakers Committee member Elana Freeman-Lobovits ’19 hoped that the community walked away with the message that race representation in media matters.

“It is crucial to consider how racial representation is being portrayed in pop culture and sports media,” Freeman-Lobovits said. “We, as both the audience and creators, must take on the responsibility of demanding more from racial representations in the various industries we support. We wanted to choose speakers whose work is contemporary and relevant. We also placed emphasis on highlighting the student’s voice and chose students to present who would help facilitate conversations in our community that are much needed.”

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