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Lumina Podcast – Pop culture can promote diversity, post-high school learning

Bridget Yuhas, director of student affairs assessment and planning at Butler University.

In past episodes of the Lumina Foundation podcast “Today’s Students/Tomorrow’s Talent,” we’ve talked about learning at the system level. Episode 12 gets inside the classroom for a discussion of the connection between teaching and learning.

I’m joined by Lumina colleague Dr. Katherine Wheatle, strategy officer for finance and federal policy, and Bridget Yuhas, director of student affairs assessment and planning at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Katherine and I spoke in Episode 3 of the podcast, where she made the point that we learn so much about what college and universities are like from what is depicted in popular culture. We wanted to expand on that idea, so she invited Bridget, who is completing her doctorate by studying how faculty use popular culture in undergraduate education.


Bridget said that pop culture permeates our lives—whether it’s music blaring from car windows, billboards we see or watching Netflix in the evening. Professors can use this material to meet students where they are and make learning relevant.

Pop culture has “really become the basis for our culture in a lot of ways,” she told us. “So, we’re thinking about how we might leverage that permeability throughout all of our lives with our students, to kind of tap into what's already in their heads and things that they feel comfortable with, things they talk about with their own friends.”

In her research, she found that, despite the ubiquity of pop culture, it’s not actually used in the classroom that frequently. She also found that, when it was used, most faculty were motivated to use pop culture to bring in diverse voices.

“Perhaps showing a viewpoint that wasn't represented in the classroom, countering maybe a dominant viewpoint that had come up during discussion,” she said. “Really just bringing in other voices to engage students and get them thinking in a different way about the material at hand.”

We note in our conversation that pop culture has other uses in education as well. In addition to being a pedagogical tool, it can support students from a student affairs perspective—increasing their media literacy—and it can help make college look appealing and achievable for potential college students.

Beyonce’s film “Homecoming,” a look at her 2018 performance at Coachella that paid homage to America’s historically black colleges and universities, is a great example of a moment in pop culture that portrayed the importance of higher education. “It was so important for fans of her music, for young folks who are thinking about college, to see how formative that was.”

In Episode 12, I also talk to Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, an organization that fights for equality in that city. Chicago Beyond has just issued a guidebook for community organizations, researchers, and funders to try to create a level playing field for nonprofits, researchers, and funders.

What Chicago Beyond wants, Dozier tells me, is for those groups “to really engage with one another again in erasing those power dynamics, and really show up at the table in relationship with one another.”

Dozier and her team have tapped into a national conversation about equity and inclusion.  “These topics have been talked about for decades,” Dozier explained.  “This is really about us as individuals and as a society, and obliterating power dynamics that don’t allow us as human beings to show up at our fullest human potential.” 

The guidebook titled “Why Am I Always Being Researched” offers practical advice in a time where talk about equity results in little more than just talk. In my opinion, it is a useful tool for those looking to make progress in a decades-old conversation.

Tracy Chen
Lumina Foundation: Working to ensure a quality education for all Americans
Lumina Foundation: Working to ensure a quality education for all Americans
August 8, 2019

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in the United States that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.