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Beyoncé classes at Canadian universities tackle music, pop culture, critical thinking

Beyoncé is not just popular on the charts, she's also big in the classroom, as shown by courses offered by two Canadian universities this fall. Critics may complain that pop culture has no place in academia, but these professors and students say Beyonce belongs.

Wonderful to have students 'invested' in the topic, says prof

With universities introducing courses on pop star Beyoncé, is this a dumbing down of academia or an accessible entry point for teaching critical thinking? 2:10

She's one of the most influential music stars on the planet and now Beyoncé is schooling some of us for real, with "Queen Bey" central to two Canadian university courses this past semester.

At the University of Waterloo in Ontario, professor Naila Keleta-Mae taught a course called Gender and Performance to explore themes of race, feminism and sexuality. She focused on Beyoncé's most recent, self-titled album to engage students by including material they could relate to.

The notion the academy exists somewhere over there and isn't connected to every day life is problematic to me," said University of Waterloo professor Naila Keleta-Mae, who taught a course on Beyoncé this semester. (CBC)

"It's been really fascinating, as an educator, to work with students who have a vested interest in a topic," Keleta-Mae told CBC News. 

"It's been wonderful to work with students who have very clear investments and then introduce them to critical race theory, feminist theory and theory on sexuality."

As for any skeptics who believe pop culture has no place in higher learning, she is passionate about why Beyoncé belongs. 

"I think that the notion the academy exists somewhere over there and isn't connected to everyday life is problematic to me," she said.

"Our students come into the classroom rich with experience and ideas, facing all kinds of issues, having all kinds of perspectives. So I think of my role as an educator as showing them ways in which they can begin to be, or continue to be, critically engaged."

University of Victoria professor Melissa Avdeeff uses Beyoncé as a case study in her course to explore popular music as a "cultural construct." (CBC)

Meanwhile, at the University of Victoria this fall, professor Melissa Avdeeff offered a music course on Beyoncé. 

"People should be studying the world they live in," she said.

"Courses like this help students develop important critical thinking skills, so when they are outside after this class they can critically analyze the media they are consuming."

In Professor Naila Keleta-Mae's seminar on Beyoncé at the University of Waterloo, students study the pop star as a way to introduce them to theories on race, feminism and sexuality. (CBC)

One of her students, Ashlih Kassam, moved to Victoria and enrolled at the university there specifically because of the Beyoncé course. She admitted to being a lifelong fan of the singer, but added that she was impressed with what she gained from the course.

"We learn how to apply different theories and vocabulary I would not have known prior to this, so it's great," Kassam said.

According to classmate Kristina Alexander, she had to respond to friends who told her she was wasting her time and money on a Beyoncé class.

"I explained [that] it's more than Beyoncé, it's about feminism, helping us to think critically inside and outside the classroom, on social media, and learning about where music comes from."

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