In Honor of Black History Month: Take a Seat at the Knowles’ Table

Jan Term Class taught by Amissa MillerJust in time for Black History Month, this Jan Term, Professor Amissa Miller offered students a chance to grab A Seat at the Table for Lemonade: Contemporary Black Womanhood Through the Soundscape and Vision of the Knowles Sisters, for a musical learning experience that also included readings by bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, and more.

“The idea for this class actually came to me during my campus visit to SMC during the interview process,” said Miller. “A member of the search committee told me about Jan Term and mentioned that it was an opportunity for faculty to teach in areas of their individual passion that fell outside of their discipline. ‘So, I could teach a class about Beyoncé?’ I said, jokingly. ‘Absolutely. Yes!’ she replied. I was so pleasantly surprised, and I immediately imagined how much I would enjoy teaching a class that put Beyoncé and Solange's 2016 albums in conversation with Black Feminist theory. That moment played a huge role in my decision to teach at St. Mary's. 

“I hope that students in the class will leave the course feeling equipped and eager to engage with cultural and academic work by Black women creators and thinkers. I hope that students will discover the work of Black women that they otherwise might not ever meet on the page at SMC and beyond, and that it will spark an interest to seek out more work by Black women,” said Miller. She also hopes that “students will develop a critical social justice praxis that informs how they engage with popular media images and narratives of Black women moving forward.

“I also hope that, in particular, the Black female students in the class will feel seen, heard, and affirmed as they carry with them some examples from the canon of Black women artists and scholars—and that it will inspire them to contribute their own work to that canon.”

The primary texts, said Miller, are the albums A Seat at the Table and Lemonade. “But just as important are the more traditional texts with which these albums are in conversation—from foundational Black feminist theorists like Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks, to contemporary scholars like Brittney Cooper and Janell Hobson. We got very lucky in that the brilliant Omise'eke Tinsley has just published a new book called Beyoncé in Formation, in which she reflects on Lemonade through the lens of her own Black queer femme feminist experience, and her work will be a crucial addition to the course.” 

This is not your mother’s Lit 101 class. “I would say there's a lot about this class that might feel nontraditional—for starters, it might be the first time that some students are encouraged to engage deeply with popular music artists in an academic context,” said Miller. “It's even more rare that Black women artists are afforded this space. In fact, any course that explicitly centers on the voices and experiences of Black women may feel different for some students.”

Continued Miller: “I think the inclusion of a blend of course materials (music, poetry, theory, print/digital/social media, etc.) also makes it a unique experience.”