Class Studies Oprah

Women's and Gender Studies course, "Oprah: The Woman, The Empire"

“I asked students, ‘If I offered a course on Oprah, how many people would actually take it?’ and a lot of hands went up,” said Denise Davis, assistant director of Living and Learning. Davis teaches a new course about the social impact of the talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist called “Oprah: The Woman, The Empire.”

"I have been informally studying Oprah for most of my life," said Davis. "I have been very interested in her success and the unique ability she has when it comes to influencing individuals in their own lives as well as greater portions of society as a whole."

The interdisciplinary course offered through the Women’s and Gender Studies department was inspired from an earlier class Davis taught called “Social Representations in Change." Students studied European social psychology theory and periodically examined Oprah in class sessions.

“She’s someone who has a big social representation, but she’s also someone who influences the country and the world in a number of different facets,” said Davis.

The new course focuses on humanitarianism and community service, taking lessons from "Oprah's Angel Network" and her other philanthropic endeavors. The class of 32 students also explores Oprah’s impact on race relations, religion, business, and female empowerment.

Inspired by an Oprah Winfrey Show episode where the famous host gave each audience member $1,000 with instructions to donate the money, the class’ overarching project is a "Pay It Forward Challenge," an effort to raise money to assist a local charity. The class selected the Stillman House in Redlands, a group home for young boys, and hopes to raise $3,000 in order to buy the house a playground set, linens, clothes, and toys.

"This is one assignment that is truly extraordinary and I can say never have I been so excited to do my homework,” says student Keyona Richey ’15. “The Pay It Forward project is something Oprah herself would be proud of.”

The class seeks to understand what makes Oprah so influential on society by analyzing her interviewing techniques, her business acumen, and a psychological connection people seem to feel towards her. The class also explored the so-called “Oprah Bump” that Barack Obama enjoyed during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“There are so many different aspects of society that she’s had her hand in that are really useful to study in an academic context,” said Davis.

“I'm so fascinated by the way Oprah has created her empire,” says student Kathleen Davis ’13. “She has broken through such barriers and is the purest example of perseverance. I'm so excited to fully engage myself in a figure that has influenced and inspired so many.”

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