by Marcus K. Dowling
Eckerd College professor Grace Lager specializes in public speaking, communication theory, media studies, and gender studies. Now, she also specializes in another subject: Dolly Parton. Via a course taught at the liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Florida, students can learn about the country icon’s impact on people’s ability to best relate to each other.
“We had a lot of things going on in our country,” Leger notes to the Tampa Bay Times. “These are issues that our students want to talk about and need to talk about, and it’s uncomfortable. But music seems to be a salve.”
Included in the 100 million-plus records Parton has sold in her five-decade-long career are songs like “Coat of Many Colors,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “9 to 5” that highlight not just amazing vocals but also lessons on how to live a life guided by empathy and equal rights.
Lager was inspired to create the course after listening to NPR’s 2019-released podcast series, Dolly Parton’s America. In one episode, University of Tennessee professor Lynn Sacco’s Parton course — where students debate hillbilly tropes, economics, and representation through the lens of Parton’s discography — is discussed. It sparked interest from Lager. “I was blown away by the cultural issues they were covering — gender, class, race — and that Dolly Parton was somebody who was able to address these issues through her music.”
For homework, Lager assigns readings and episodes of the NPR podcast. In class, students study Dolly’s song lyrics, evolving appearance, and more.
Via Zoom, a student in the class best summed up the course’s value as having a much more significant impact outside of the classroom: “[We learn] progression, freedom, forgiveness, and the way forward.”
For more information about Dr. Lager, click here.