Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Course Takes Magic Path to Engaging Students; Sociology of Disney at JU Uses Films to Explore Class, Other Common Topics

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Course Takes Magic Path to Engaging Students; Sociology of Disney at JU Uses Films to Explore Class, Other Common Topics

Article excerpt

Byline: Meredith Rutland

A classroom case study: A young woman stuck in an abusive home escapes her family through marriage. Fast forward 60 years: Another young woman calls off her wedding to a deceptive fiance and focuses her time on her older sister and a new partner from a lower social class.

If these two fictional examples came from the same writer, what does this say about how the author's attitude toward women changed?

They may sound like a classic comparison of gender roles, but they're actually the plot of two Disney movies - "Cinderella" and "Frozen."

Heather Downs, a Jacksonville University sociology professor, is using such examples in her "The Sociology of Disney" summer course, which she created last year as a way to get students interested in common sociology topics. The course has gained popularity since, and 16 students completed their final Friday by running around the Magic Kingdom and taking photos of examples of sociology topics discussed in class.

The class is an example of a growing trend in universities nationwide: Blending traditional knowledge and contemporary entertainment, Downs said.

Professors have long looked for ways to keep students interested, and some have turned to popular culture. Classes on zombies, vampires and princesses are, at their core, traditional lessons dressed up as entertainment.

"There's something about that topic that it really sticks with them, and they remember it," Downs said. "When people are enjoying what they're doing, they're much more likely to recall it."

Erol Atamer, a JU geography senior, said he grew up watching Disney films, and it's been fascinating to pick apart social themes in the movies. Reading textbooks about the marketing and economics of Disney and writing papers on social norms in the movies has been much more engaging than flipping through a PowerPoint. …

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