Two extraordinary Castleton students are gearing up for a once-in-a-lifetime academic experience. Ashley Nelson and Patrick Cote-Abel will be traveling to San Diego, California in April to present their research at an international conference.
The Popular Culture Association International Conference is an annual event that brings scholars together from around the world to share ideas about popular culture. The conference receives submissions from graduate students and faculty internationally.
Sanjukta Ghosh, the Castleton communication professor who is traveling with the students, says that this is particularly exciting because Nelson and Cote-Abel are undergraduates whose papers have been accepted.
“There are hardly any submissions from undergraduate students … mainly it is strong graduate students and faculty. Two undergraduate students of mine submitted papers in this competitive atmosphere, and got their papers accepted,” said Ghosh. “This is a huge deal. This is not statewide, region wide, or nationwide, but international.”
Nelson will be presenting her research on the popular television show “Modern Family” and how it portrays gender roles and sexuality, specifically with gays and lesbians. Her research will link the history of the original sitcom and the role of a family in a sitcom today.
“I chose ‘Modern Family’ to focus on how their portrayals of sexuality kind of reinforce negative stereotypes and outdated stereotypes of homosexual men in particular,” said Nelson. “‘Modern Family’ kind of reinforces heteronormativity – which is the idea that being normal is being heterosexual – and I like to challenge that idea because I hate that notion.”
According to Nelson, part of her paper will critically analyze each of the families in “Modern Family” separately, how those gender roles reinforce their sexuality and the portrayal of those roles based on their sexuality.
“I’m very nervous, but I’m really excited and I know it will help me get out of my comfort zone, because it will be in front of a group of professors, graduate students and doctors. It’s nerve-wracking, but I think this is a very good opportunity and I shouldn't miss out while I’m still at Castleton,” Nelson said.
Cote-Abel will be presenting his research on the political consequences of superhero movies, and how movies and television reinforce the way people see the world. He will specifically be looking at superhero movies and the way they enforce America’s global relationships since the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Specifically after 9/11, we sort of spread across the world and went around disregarding laws; international laws and national laws in the name of safety and security,” said Cote-Abel.
He focuses on superhero films justifying the idea that it is okay to disobey these laws in order to protect the greater good. He is also looking at how it affects American youth who are left with the impression that this is how it’s supposed to be in real life.
“They way I feel about the trip changes almost every hour. I go from ‘this is great, I’m going to have so many networking opportunities,’ to ‘I’m gonna screw up and make a fool of myself,’ so I’m bouncing between there like every hour and I’ve been there for like four months, with only a month-and-a-half left to go,” he said.
Ghosh will also be presenting at the conference alongside her students. Her research is based on feminism in Bollywood, (the Indian equivalent of Hollywood) and the different ways it has been introduced to common Bollywood films.
The trip isn’t all work and no play though, as the three may also be visiting Tijuana, Mexico for the day, after they have presented at the conference. According to Ghosh, they will likely take a trolley down to the Mexican border and cross over on foot to enjoy some authentic Mexican cuisine.
Ghosh is extremely excited about the accomplishments of her students, and is proud to say they are undergraduates presenting at an international conference.
“My students will shine. I will never let them fail,” she said.