Faculty Spotlight: Andrea Press
Since Professor Andrea Press arrived at the University of Virginia in 2006, the Media Studies department has transformed from a "program" to a expansive department. Coming from the University of Illinois, home to one of the oldest, most influential media studies programs in the country, Professor Press was well equipped to shape the way media should be studied at the home of the Cavaliers.
Professor Press' interest in the study of media stems from her own personal interest in the subject. She views herself as a fan and critic, teaching her students to take on these same roles when looking at media. She experienced a media climate far different from the one we live in now, leaving a considerable impact on her perception of media. "As I came of age during the 1960's and 1970's, I saw the political impact of media during a time of radical social upheaval. Music was political; film was political; television was political. It was impossible not to take media seriously during that era, and I have never lost interest." Media has never ceased to be an important part of her life. When she first earned her PhD in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, film studies was just beginning to become part of University curriculum. She jokes that she never actually enrolled in any film or television classes, or any courses in gender studies, until she started teaching, because all of her coursework was completed before these classes were regularly on the books. When asked what we should value about the media, as well as what we should be more critical of, Professor Press had an answer focused on our current media environment: "the new media environment offers unprecedented opportunities for creative participation by citizens, but also unprecedented opportunities for social control if we as a population are not careful to analyze, monitor, and criticize media institutions and their goals." She says that participating and interacting with media, like film or music, is important for girls coming of age who are developing their gender identity. Professor Press is internationally known for her interdisciplinary expertise on media audiences, feminist media issues, and media and the social classes in the United States. Having written many works focused on the role of media in the lives of women, Professor Press looks forward to more courses concentrated in gender and media. With the welcoming of new professors, Andre Cavalcante and Shilpa Dave, this critical analysis of gender, race, class, and sexuality in the media will become prominent in the Media Studies department. Media Studies majors are taught to analyze the social impact of media on public opinion and culture, to which Professor Press says we must be very critical of. Her time at the University of Illinois was one governed by the role the university played in the history of media studies in the United States. The University of Virginia provided Professor Press with the opportunity and freedom to create a Media Studies department interested in the way media study should proceed in 2013 and onward. Because of this, there has been a focus on critical media study involving gender, sexuality, race, and class, as well as media policy and the role of the new media environment in shaping contemporary cultural life. She also notes that, because the University of Virginia integrated the Media Studies department in the College of Arts and Sciences, there is a far closer connection to the other disciplines that play an important role in shaping the department's research. Since media studies students are in the midst of creating a Media Studies Society, I asked Professor Press what she would write as their mission statement. " 'In this society, we pledge to contribute to the creation of a more socially progressive media system.' I'd include that alongside statements about how much we enjoy media; how committed we are to creating important and vital media; and how committed we are to becoming comfortable and conversant with the mechanisms for participating in and creating media in the new media environment." Professor Press has been vital in the creation of our Media Studies department, evidenced by its need to annul the major application process due to the demand from students. Our media environment is continually changing, adapting, and growing, and Professor Press will be ready to not only analyze and understand it's shifts, but to teach students to be as equally critical. Since Professor Press largely studies television, I was curious to know what her favorite TV show was. "Currently I enjoy the Showtime show NURSE JACKIE. What I like most about this particular show is that it portrays daily life for a very harried and stressed working mother, played by a middle-aged actress. These images are rare on television. Women under thirty are the most represented group on television; they are overrepresented as compared with the percentage of women in the population who are under thirty. NURSE JACKIE departs from the norm in this way." For more information about Professor Press and the University of Virginia's Media Studies department, follow the link here. Image Credit: University of Virginia.