Stetson Stories

Colleen Allen: Finding an Academic Home

Finding My Way, by Colleen Allen, a December 2004 graduate of Stetson with a major in American Studies and a minor in Sport Administration

When I first arrived at Stetson in 2000, I wasn't sure what courses to take and I wasn't even sure I wanted to be here. I tried a number of different majors, but none of the subjects grabbed my interest. In my third semester, I needed another class and signed up for AS152, American Culture in the 1950s and 1960s. I didn't know what to make of it, but I thought: "One class can't hurt."Besides, my mother was a kind of hippie child and a great advocate for women's rights. She always said, "Women can do anything."It worked for her, and I always wondered where that came from.

I grew up in a strong Irish Catholic family where all the women were as headstrong as the men gender stereotyping here: My uncles learned to cook, and my twin aunts played on the county softball team. My mother went into science doing audiology. She taught me to cook but also to play sports and insisted that I could do anything too. During my first few years in college, I just wasn't sure what that something would be.

While in AS152, one day, one student asked if I was a major. It's a simple question, but I had never considered it. I looked into it with Professor Emily Mieras, and her description of studying American culture and the flexibility of the major made me want to sign up as a major. I hadn't yet found a place in the university, but now I knew this was what I wanted. My whole desire for education changed.

I still needed to decide on my concentration within the major: four courses from different departments on a related theme. Professor Mieras gave me the leeway to study what I wanted and to follow my interests. I told her that ever since my own childhood, I had always been interested in women and children and their relation to the media, those forces that influence them and how they are represented there. I started looking for courses from across the university that would help me understand especially the effects of TV programs on women and children. This became the basis of my concentration for the major and also for my senior research

At first, I was afraid that the big senior project seemed so long and drawn out. But the more I took background courses and the more I researched, the more excited I got about the work. It is almost as if I forgot to be afraid of it, and I started to want to tell people about what I was learning.

For my concentration and my Senior Research, I included courses from Women and Gender Studies and Religious Studies along with my American Studies courses. They helped me realize the injustices that women have faced. I wanted to know what I could do to make a difference. I took a stab at that with my Senior Research. I watched shows that we all watch, enjoy, and never think about Sex and the City, Seventh Heaven, Full House, The Newlyweds, and others, and I looked at the way women were portrayed. It made me angry and frustrated to see the stereotypes. Women were never shown with any balance.

While I was finishing my American Studies major, I also completed a minor in Sports Administration. That grew from my love of sports ever since childhood. And you know, my major in American Studies helped me there too. Most of the students in my classes were men, and it was often frustrating to be one of the few women. Early on, I was not taken seriously, but when they realized that I was a serious student, their attitudes changed. The study I was doing for my major gave me the confidence and knowledge I needed to stand up for myself.

I am so glad that I found American Studies. I was struggling to find where I belonged, and when I found this major, my whole attitude changed overnight. I was not taking my studies very seriously before, and now I enjoy researching and talking about it with others. Sometimes all it takes is one class, and that can help you choose a major and change your whole direction. The professors in American Studies are so interested in their subject that it rubs off on you, and they always have time for students. There is never something else in the way if one of their students wants to learn.

I wanted to make this statement before leaving Stetson am hoping to continue my studies in graduate school to let me continue my research on the effects of media on society, mainly on women and children. Maybe my words can influence someone else to think about American Studies. I never had before, but now, I am so glad that I did.

Colleen Allen ([email protected])