Film and Media Studies Made Bona Fide Department


Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The official Department of Film and Media studies was created last November by an all-faculty vote that came after a nearly two-year push by professors and students to upgrade the department’s status. The first batch of official course and honors majors will graduate in 2014.

“We’ve been so close to department status for so long,” said Asst. Professor Bob Rehak.

Now that Film and Media has its own department, students will have a clearer path to follow in their pursuit of the discipline, and faculty members will have more of a voice in the Swarthmore community.

“The College is really run by departments,” said Department Chair Patty White. “The department is your stronghold from where you make your claims for resources or whatever you need.”

The course of study remains largely the same: students still are required to take both theory and production classes, and culminate their majors with the senior capstone offered in the spring. “There was already this crumbling of a wall,” said Rehak of the subtle nature of the changes being made.

The main difference is the addition of sophomore-level required courses. “With the old requirements, a lot of people weren’t seeing theory until senior spring, and Patty and Bob thought that was ridiculous,” said Brian Huser ‘13, who is special majoring in Film and Media Studies.

The main change besides sophomore requirements is the capstone class, which Rehak and White are working to ramp up and focus in.

“When we thought we were becoming a department last year, we began team-teaching the capstone as a way to give students a collaborative experience that integrates critical skills with production,” said White.

This capstone will also have a specific focus each year, reflecting some combination of the two professors’ fields of expertise. This year’s topic is “materializing media,” a concept that weaves between Rehak’s interest in fan culture, and Professor White’s focus on psychoanalytic theories.

“We’re really interested in how to scale up lab-based learning and bring the sciences into our media studies program,” said Rehak. “It’s all part of making the capstone more project-oriented, and getting students more invested in the creative process as opposed to just the end product.”

The students and faculty involved with the capstone are excited to put this unique perspective to work in a media conference coming up in March called “Visualizing Media Futures.” Students in the capstone will focus much of their class time until March preparing for the conference, and both professors are excited to see what will happen.

“I love that we’re making this happen because sometimes Liberal Arts can be slower in these areas,” White said. “The way we do it is being emulated at our peer schools, and I’m really proud of our students for helping to make it happen.”

“One awesome thing about Film and Media at Swarthmore is that it tries to encompass different kinds of backgrounds, said Soomin Kim ‘13, who is special majoring in Film and Media Studies. In her senior year, Kim’s experience with the production side of film studies has allowed her to make her Studio Art studies more multidimensional.

“My first experience in White’s Feminist Film and Media class was great because I had my own visually oriented perspective, whereas someone like Brian who’s a mathematician and also knows a lot of theory brings that to the class. It’s nice to see those different perspectives actually brought in,” she said.


  1. I’m really happy to see this. With the new Neuroscience major and growing interdisciplinary studies like Environmental Studies, the creation of a proper department for FMST is a sign that even in difficult financial times, Swarthmore is committed to expanding and developing its academic offerings. Hopefully other interdisciplinary or nontraditional fields will be able to follow suit, as long as doing so does not jeopardize existing smaller programs (like some languages) or act as a justification for unnecessary and undesirable growth of the student body.

    Still, this is a good day.

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