‘College Town USA’ : An Observation on the Student-Tourist

Art Lib

 what is the authentic college experience?

Last year I took a class called “Visual Anthropology.” For those of you who are unfamiliar “Visual anthropology is a subfield of social anthropology that is concerned, in part, with the study and production of ethnographic photography, film and, since the mid-1990s, new media. While the term is sometimes used interchangeably with ethnographic film, visual anthropology also encompasses the anthropological study of visual representation, including areas such as performance, museums, art, and the production and reception of mass media” (Wikipedia).


The class brought to mind discussions of “authenticity” I’ve had in other anthropology classes and made me look at Rutgers differently. Walking around I realized that I was a tourist, inside of a space that has been fashioned to (at least visually) provide the AUTHENTIC COLLEGE EXPERIENCE.

There is a lot that can be learned from different cultural understandings of aesthetics and authenticity. In order to study systems of commerce that rely on their aesthetic value and their guarantee of authenticity a close look at the cultural knowledge that constructs these two components is the best place in which to ground ethnography. By asking how aesthetics and authenticity are understood, cultural anthropologists can develop studies that point to current models of modernity that control complex systems.

The most relevant of these systems for college student is perhaps the University and it’s ‘college town.’ Together, the University campus and its surrounding college town promote a space that can be seen as a suitable host for the ‘authentic’ college experience.

George Street

Libraries and Dorms with carefully manicured lawns, offices and academic powerhouses working out of historic buildings, coffee houses, restaurant/bars and much more, speak volumes to how the University thinks certain looks can work in its favor when visually endorsing its capability of providing you with the college experience.

College Ave

With this in mind, I have proposed a new way of studying the student as if they were a tourist. As the modern American college student navigates through an environment that is comprised partially of a staged authenticity that corresponds to ‘the college experience,’ she becomes a tourist, forced to analyze aesthetics in meaning-making processes through various forms of cultural production.

I have always been interested in photography’s role in the cultural construction of knowledge. How we view the images that bombard us each day, on billboards, flyers, brochures, etc has a great deal to do with how we assign their cultural significance in our everyday lives. In other words, the way “one learns to see in cultural ways” (Grasseni 2009: 23) affects the way one responds to visual stimuli. My question for this study on the STUDENT TOURIST then, is how this formation of skilled visions affects the ways one produces their own images through the formation of visual knowledge.  Grasseni in her 2009 study examines this cause and effect though her explanation of skilled visions and their effect on culturally conditioned ways of seeing specific information’s ‘shareability.’

View at Rockoff

Over all I want to examine through photographs students take, how they visually separate things that they identify as “RUTGERS” from the things that are not, the things that are inauthentic, and the things that are striving to be college-y if you will.

ts 2
Cat 2

(Photo Credits: [Me] Veronica Cohen + Eli-Holvey-Slifer)


One thought on “‘College Town USA’ : An Observation on the Student-Tourist

  1. Well for me, this would depend on what you define as “college-y”. For a while, when I was young, the only university campus I knew of was the Princeton campus. I grew up in the Mercer County region of New Jersey, and I visited Princeton a lot. I really like admiring the architecture of buildings from that time period, which Rutgers has a lot of on The College Avenue and Douglass campuses. Busch, Livingston, and Cook: not so much. I don’t like those three campuses (especially Livingston and Busch) as much because the buildings on them either look too modern or they look like robot feces (aka Beck Hall). I live in Demarest Hall on College Avenue, and that in itself is very different from the other active dorms nearby in its architectural design. It’s very colonial-esque in nature with a C structure, a cupola, and a gambrel roof. The other dorms around it are brown, blocky, and uninteresting. They also don’t have a vibrant community that does lots of activities as they are not a special interest dorm, but that’s a different topic. Here, we’re focusing on aesthetics and purely aesthetics. But I prefer College Avenue and Douglass to the other three in terms of the architecture of the buildings and also the classes that are primarily abundant in those areas. College Avenue is very diverse, but does come back to humanities and Douglass is filled with lots of Language, Arts, and Political Sciences.

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