‘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)



.Yoga and the Blogger.

(www.theyogapositions.com)       This past week, I attended the AWP Conference in Boston, MA with  The Anthologist, one of Rutgers’ Literary Magazines.  The annual conference provides (as it’s website says) “support,  advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 500 college and university creative writing programs, and 125 writers’ conferences and centers. [Their] mission is to foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.” While there, I sat in on panels about writing and publishing and heard a few readings by MFA professors from all over the US. My favorite panel above all was titled: Yoga and the life of the writer:  a discussion that likened yoga practice to writing practice.



  “adjust your shoulders, adjust your margins”

I had started the day sitting in a panel called “This is your brain on fiction” and I was super psyched to see it…. but last minute, as the panelists tapped their loose-leaf presentation notes on the desk and tested their mics,  I got a feeeeeeling  I should gather my jacket and belongings, exit quietly, and take the escalator upstairs to Yoga and the Writer. As I left the florescent lighted room, I heard the moderator clear his throat: “ooookay then let’s begin”.. tip-toeing out,  I close the (mahogany?) door behind me and head towards the escalator. In my hurry I glance at my hand were I wrote the panel’s room number: Yoga + Writer: 316. At the top of the escalator, on the 3rd floor, the entire exterior wall was a window framing a beautifully snowy scene on Boylston street.

312..312..picking up the pace..ah 316!

I take a seat in the back. ” I see some people are still  coming in…” The woman standing behind the podium has a deep humming calm in her voice. After she (Krista Katrovas) welcomed us, she introduced the panelists Melissa Pritchard, Pam Uschuk, Suzanne Roberts, and Andrea England- all yogi writers with interesting back stories and different specialties. Melissa was the most helpful, for me, in relating my yoga practice to writing.

She began by outlining four common key intentions:

(1) Non-Violence.  In yoga we practice non-violence in the traditional sense of doing no harm to yourself or others (physically, verbally, or with your thoughts). In any form of writing – if we want to keep writing we must also practice non-violence towards our selves as writers. We cannot beat ourselves up for not ‘getting it;’ not writing a masterpiece. If we can eliminate the ego, which violently interrupts both the writing process and yoga practice, then we can give our selves the chance to practice and write without the egotistical constraints of ‘this isn’t good enough’ or ‘I suck because I can’t touch my toes.’ If we practice non-violence, we keep ourselves from crushing our own spirits yoga and in writing. This an intention that is especially needed in writing today, as online forums like Blogs make our writing so easily available its easy to defend or dismiss our work. In dismissing our work or selling it short – we dismiss ourselves and allow the ego to once again bully us out of a greater ego-less experience.

(2) Truthfulness – Melissa herself was very truthful with us. She admitted to the stereotype around yogis’s typical image:  strict organic vegans with henna dyed dreddies wearing cotton/hemp pants. She admitted the alleged trendiness of it all, and how she felt very much outside of this trend and this style. She was real. She decided, in practicing yoga- to admit her issues with yoga in general in order to find her own practice. How can you find our own style when you arn’t true to yourself? This question can be asked of writers as well.  What is your style and what’s influencing it – are those influences positive, negative, arbitrary? We need to ask ourselves to find out who were truely trying to please in our writing. Who are we trying to impress with advanced yoga poses that leave us sore for days? I pushing parts of my body/mind/ craft too forcefully?

(3) Moderation In all things. – don’t write until you’re back is breaking hunched over your computer and don’t twist your body into far too challenging poses.

(4) Non-attachment –  It was Faulkner who said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings”.There comes a time in any seasoned writer’s life where she must ditch her most darling lines, phrases.  In writing, just as in yoga, you can’t become attached to anyone idea because it may not fit into the larger whole. One phrase you LOVE in a story you’ve written may not be in service of the piece’s purpose – it may only be something you’re personally attached to because it sounds sooo good or it came to you in an enlightened moment….but, if the piece requires, you must let it go (or put it somewhere else where it doesn’t overwhelm the breath of the piece.) Let it die… In yoga, every time you practice, you die – reaching Shavasana or ‘corpse pose.’ It is a natural part of practice as difficult edits and revisions are part of writing.

So in short – Yoga is like writing. Be truthful to yourself, don’t beat yourself up, and learn to let go of the ideas overwhelming your breath.


“just be with the doing of it,” one panelist said.


“Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy”


After our class discussions I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology changes our everyday life – especially our understanding of convenience. Whether we’re flying from A to B or nuking a vegan bean burrito, convenience becomes something we expect. Its a vital factor in our decision making and a huge selling point for any product. Everything is convenient  made easier, made more intellegent – more advanced. We have the next best everything…. but are we happy?


Luis CK. jokes here on Conan (2009) that everything’s amazing but no body’s happy.  We can sit in a chair and fly over the earth but all we can think about is wi-fi availability and how small the bathroom is. Its a modern miracle, but we can’t stand that it takes us 5 hours to get from California to New York (a trip that would have once taken years and possibly meant death for have your caravan). Soooo everything’s amazing..but no one’s happy.Nothings fast enough, smart enough, or convenient enough. We always want more. We want whats ‘better’ than the last thing.

This is not to say that striving towards an innovative future through the creation of better and faster technology is a negative drive,  but it is undeniable that this drive has had effects on our understanding of what’s easy, what’s difficult, and what’s necessary and unnecessary.  Because we can easily accomplish tasks with the push of a button, the previous alternative is perceived as more ‘difficult’ – tasks like walking up and down stairs  for example is harder than taking the elevator, writing an email is ‘easier’ that writing a letter. Overall what I want to point out is that technology has a way of changing not only our perception of convenience – but that these views show themselves linguistically:  Words like ‘better’ and ‘best’ for technology have a way of easily creeping into our reasoning – convincing us that one thing is ‘better’ than the last.”Google it”  is used instead of any alternative.  In short – we think less about the actual process of what is ‘easy’ when we rely on the language of convenience that comes with new technology.