Students enrolled in Dr. Teresita (Tere) Garza’s COMM 4310: Communication and Popular Culture course completed over 500 hours in a weeklong volunteer service-learning project with South by Southwest (SXSW) the locally held international music, film, and interactive media convention and festival. Students committed to a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer service over spring break. However, most students willingly exceeded the minimum requirement and volunteered 60-80 hours.
Prior to SXSW, students in the class received collaborative instruction from Dr. Garza, Holly Aker and Mitchell Harris (editors from the campus newspaper Hilltop Views) on how to write Associated Press Style reviews. During SXSW, students take on the role of journalists. They have a 48-hour submission deadline to produce reviews, take photos, and/or edit film of SXSW events for print or online publication in Hilltop Views. Their final assignment for the course requires an application of a rhetorical or cultural studies theory and method in writing an extended critical analysis of an emerging form of popular culture (music, film, game, or new media technology) that they encountered at SXSW.
The purpose of this service-learning project is to give students the opportunity to contemplate and apply the theoretical lessons learned in class. By participating in SXSW, students are able to see firsthand the process by which popular culture functions as a rhetorical and cultural artifact that carries meaning, manifests group identity, and sometimes becomes a site of political, social, and cultural struggle. They learn how rhetorical criticism contributes to the shaping of popular culture and how they can utilize rhetorical critique to evaluate new forms of popular culture and their ensuing debates.