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Teachers confront media stereotypes

By Kylie Gallegos and Destiny Holliman

Staff Writers

Pop Culture and Media Art teacher Keith Brown had a student that for a time was the only African American in her grade and, when he went to check on her after hearing an insensitive comment, she just said that she was “sick of not being around anybody that looks like her.”

Mr. Brown said it can feel like you’re invisible, even though you’re supposed to feel like a human, if you never get to see something that actually shows a mirror to who you are.

Ethnic Studies and Human Rights teacher Angel Barragan said that, when it comes to how the media impacts teens, “It has an impact on being able to determine a lot of the ways they view themselves.”

An example he gave was a young Latino boy growing up and watching these stereotypes that all Latinos are gardeners and are working in the fields. He said that “consuming so much of this media in some way, whether it’s a joke or something seen on social media or whether it’s throughout a movie, eventually the student may believe that that would be their ultimate outcome.”

Human Sexuality teacher Rebecca Breuer stated in an email that the media “affects how they think they’re supposed to look (and therefore how they feel about themselves and their bodies).”

An example she gave was that, many times because of the media, teens will avoid doing certain things that they feel they would be judged for. This also causes LGBTQ+ teens to feel left out and alone.

Mr. Brown said, “I think one of the biggest things is people don’t always realize the sort of lessons that they learn from TV shows, movies, videos, and music that they hear, see, consume — and people don’t always think about what’s the stuff that actually goes on in your head when you’re hearing those things.”

Media portrayal impacts the curriculum not only for Ethnic Studies and Human Rights but also classes like Pop Culture and Human Sexuality.

For Ethnic Studies and Human Rights, Mr. Barragan has a whole round where he teaches about representation and the effects misrepresentation in the media has on different groups.

Mr. Barragan said that he believes misrepresentation is something that we need to actively discuss “even if it makes us uncomfortable to talk about.”

As for the Human Sexuality class, like Ethnic studies, Ms. Breuer has also dedicated a round of class to talking about the effects of the media. Her curriculum “focuses directly on how the media affects everything about our sexuality.”

Mr. Brown built his whole Pop Culture class to bust stereotypes that are tied to someone’s appearance, and he tries to break down these certain stereotypes and get behind the reasoning as to why that association is made.

He said that “sometimes you hear something that has no reality or, like, it’s true for one person and then there’s the millions of other people where that’s not the case, you know.”

Mr. Barragan shared some insight on why he thinks these stereotypes are so easily spread and believed. 

He used the idea of the stereotype that all Latinos end up as gardeners as an example and said how the majority of society knows this is false and a wrong assumption made, but, since we find it comical, that makes it easy for that stereotype to be passed on and pushed forward.  “Although we can agree that it’s not true, it is also very easy to push the idea and have others believe that maybe it is reality without intending to.”

Ms. Breuer stated that, when it comes to gender identification and the media, it “reinforces our ideas of what it means to be a man vs a woman and the idea that you have to be one or the other. “

For how media influences how teens are viewed, Ms. Breuer shared her opinion. She stated that, often times when a teenager is seen on the media, whether it’s in videos, movies, or even TV shows, “Teens are shown as being really sexual, engaging in risky behaviors with regards to sex, drugs and alcohol.”

Mr. Barragan did say that he does believe it’s getting better, especially since we just had an Afro-Latino Spiderman in the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse last year, even though there was quite some controversy and a lot of people who were mad or upset. 

He said that representation is very important to the youth and said, “I think youth, like yourselves and a lot of the students in the school, acknowledge that there is a problem with representation in the media. I think what’s most important is figuring out what is in your power to be able to change.”

Featured Image (at the top of this post): In Keith Brown’s Pop Culture and Media Art class, students made collages to analyze how pop culture defines what it means to be a teenager. 


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