by Samantha Aurilia, Class of 2016
I did not come to Catholic University as a Media and Communication Studies student. Technically at the time it didn’t even have the “Communication” part. But, regardless, I enrolled at CUA as a History major. I found the then Media Studies Department while browsing online the summer before my freshman year. I thought I’d try to double major, get a job in communications if the whole law school thing didn’t work out. Looking back, freshmen-year-Sam was a little naïve. She thought a job in communications meant sending out emails and social media posts, and she certainly didn’t see any courses that would teach her how to do that. I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew that whatever I did, I was going to do it well.
Freshmen year finally rolls around and I’m signed up for Intro to Media Studies. That semester I went home for Thanksgiving break to tell my parents about the paper I wrote on Toy Story…cue crickets. The next semester I tried to explain to them how the player piano actually had a significant impact upon American domestic life. By the time I’m a sophomore my parents think my only postgraduate qualifications will be “excellent movie watcher.” As I finished my required intro courses sophomore year, I was determined to figure Media Studies out and change their minds and get at least a working definition in my own mind.
Sophomore year provided new insights. Media Studies wasn’t just about the messages and media themselves, but how they were packaged. Sophomore year I also learned the limits of definition itself…I could tell my quest to define Media Studies wasn’t going to go well and Kenneth Burke wasn’t going to help me out. Rhetoric was just becoming another bullet to add to my long descriptor of Media Studies at CUA. That next semester, I added a production and archival research course to the list. Was Media Studies method based?
I finally settled on telling my parents that “Media Studies is like English, except instead of books, we study everything and that sometimes also includes books.” Long winded definition through comparison…eloquent I know. Finally I made some progress as I began to talk with my professors in the department, keeping Marshall McLuhan’s phrase, “the medium is the message” in mind. I no longer cared about Media Studies; I cared about Media Studies at CUA. The department is comprised of faculty members with backgrounds in film, rhetoric, philosophy, and history. No wonder I was having trouble narrowing it down. Media Studies is not meant to be narrowed down.
I stopped caring about defining and defending my major. Because of what I’ve learned as a Media and Communication Studies major those same postgraduate qualifications my parents asked about are limitless. I developed my writing style to the point where I was actually able to work at the school’s Writing Center and even help graduate students clearly express their thoughts. I have presented at two conferences and the school’s Research Day because the course discussions gave me confidence in my abilities. I’ve researched at archives in DC, Maryland, and New York because my professor showed me how. I studied abroad in Rome and analyzed a church building using the same tools and asking the same questions that I would have used when approaching a film or commercial.
I’m not necessarily sure what the next steps are for me. But I know that my time in Media and Communication Studies has prepared me for a lifetime of opportunities. And to the people questioning my qualifications after the program here I some things I have and haven’t learned while here:
Things MCS has NOT taught me how to do:
1) Get my parents to understand what “Media Studies” is so they can explain it to their
2) Sit in class without saying anything.
3) Just “watch” commercials or movies.
4) Mindlessly operate software.
Things MCS HAS taught me how to do:
1) Ask questions to understand a problem fully.
2) Ruin every movie, television show, or commercial you’ve ever “enjoyed.”
3) Make you question what it means to “enjoy” media.
4) Actually know what it means when someone calls a politician a communist. (That
someone is probably wrong, by the way)
5) Throw some serious MCS shade— To those of you who said I “just” sat around and
watched Disney movies for my major, to paraphrase Rene Girard, you probably can’t
help it, but don’t hate me cuz you ain’t me.