Cal Poly ethnic studies department to offer class on Beyoncé

Beyoncé performs at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 12, 2017.
Beyoncé performs at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 12, 2017. Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

For Beyoncé fans at Cal Poly, a new class offers a chance to get in formation.

The class, which will be offered in the spring quarter through Cal Poly’s ethnic studies department, will focus on exploring political landscapes through Beyoncé’s work, according to assistant professor and Beyoncé fan Jenell Navarro, who will teach the class.

“We’re mostly trying to explore three things: woman of color feminism; racism, specifically anti-black racism; and police brutality,” Navarro said, adding that those themes can be found even in Beyoncé’s early career with Destiny’s Child, with songs like “Survivor” and “Independent Women.”

The idea for a Beyoncé class grew out of a luncheon Navarro and Denise Isom, the chair of the ethnic studies department, had in 2016, soon after Beyoncé’s “Formation” performance at the Super Bowl.

“We just felt like in this political moment, young people of color are really tuned in to Beyoncé, and her most recent work, ‘Lemonade,’ spoke volumes to them about the diversities of blackness, about being a woman of color in 2017 — and a politically conscious one at that — and that’s difficult to reign or master,” Navarro said.

The class is structured along the same lines of the “Lemonade” album, Navarro said, and each week is themed around a different emotion. For example, the theme of the first week is intuition, and other themes include accountability, freedom, redemption and hope.

According to the syllabus, the course will “pair Beyonce’s music and music videos with historical and contemporary readings by intellects of color who speak volumes about the persistent redesigning of racism, sexism and police violence in our world.”

Instead of a final exam, the class will culminate in a one-day conference called Cal Poly Bey Day, which Navarro said will feature student and faculty presentations on Beyoncé’s work, performances choreographed to Beyoncé’s music, and an altar dedicated to women of color who have been killed because of police violence.

“What I would like to do is subvert the notion that the only people who produce canons of work are white males,” Navarro said. “We have an incredible knowledge of production and artistry in Beyoncé’s work, and it’s coming from a black woman, and that should be celebrated and applauded.

“We want to show students even though we’re in an institution of higher education that values the Western tradition — which is mostly the white, male, European tradition — there are other forms of knowledge that are incredibly sophisticated and worthy of study.”

Navarro said that, given that Cal Poly is a predominantly white campus, it’s important to have classes that are relevant to students of color.

“A predominantly white institution needs spaces designed to nourish and provide a safe space for our students of color, and I hope this class will be one of those,” she said.

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF