A Summer Lesson in Southern Culture

By Jocelyn Cano

April 2, 2014

Cruising down U.S. Route 61, the warm summer air and hot jazz rhythms make it easy to enjoy one’s trip into the heart of the culture of the American South. Come this June, students enrolled in Dominican’s Sociology 285 course will have the opportunity to embark on that trip and learn about Southern culture, history and true values of Southern life.

The five-day trip, scheduled from June 25 through June 29, will take students down to Memphis, Tenn. and other sites along a strip of the southern United States known as the Mississippi Delta.

Sociology Professor Janice Monti has been at the helm of the trip for the last 10 years and is a big advocate of the musical culture that the South has to offer. Monti finds great value in the trip and knows that students look forward to the trip because it offers an educational opportunity like none other.

“It is a great gift to American culture that not many of us know about,” Monti said.

Through the course, Monti has found many ways to give her students a hands-on approach to Southern musical genres, including blues, gospel, R&B and soul. Monti and her students visit juke joints to enjoy live music almost every night in order to immerse themselves in the culture.

While the trip comes with a $1,850 price tag, students come away with three credit hours and an experience few students elsewhere get to take part in.

Senior Rebecca Lawler took part in the course during the summer of 2012 and enjoyed being able to take some of the unique culture back with her.

“Thinking about the music, the passion, the lifestyle and the blues, these are real life experiences,” Lawler said. “It is different than music now. It means something; it is a story that people connect to.”

Monti says she wants her students to learn “the conjoined roots of the American civil rights movement and the cultural and musical legacy of the American South through its history, as well as a contemporary look at the situation.”

During the trip, other educational opportunities take place during Memphis visits to Stax Records, which rivaled Motown music back in its heyday, and Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and other legendary blues and gospel artists got their starts.

However, the trip down the Mississippi Delta consists of more than just nights filled with live musicians and dancing at lively juke joints. Monti introduces her students to the socioeconomics of the region, visiting towns like Helena, Ark., Clarksdale, Miss. and Money, Miss.

Before the trip, students are required to attend two workshops that will prepare them for the sights and sounds that they will visit and hear. While it is only a few hundred miles away, the Mississippi Delta is very different than the rest of the U.S.

“We usually think of study abroad as going to a foreign country, but this is only two states away,” Monti said. “The Delta is a unique experience. It’s sometimes called ‘the land that time forgot’ or ‘America’s Third World.’”

Lawler believes the workshops show you what to expect but does not do the trip justice because no lecture compares to actually being there.

 

“My favorite thing [about the trip] was spending the night at a sharecropper’s plantation,” Lawler said. “It was where slaves would stay. You get there and it’s so real.”

The music and historical locations are not the only things students have to look forward to. Monti also gives her students a taste of the culinary side of Southern culture. Throughout the trip, they indulge in barbecue, grits, fried chicken and greens.

For senior Lavell Garner, his experience on the trip last summer taught him lessons

he would never forget.

“I learned to value all the little things you have in life,” Garner said. “Most people down there do not have much, but they do with what they have and continue to strive to move on in life.”

Lawler also appreciated the special value to life that many residents along the Mississippi Delta share.

“It taught me about culture [and] it was amazing,” she said. “[It was] such a different world than our culture; so real life and applicable.”