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Nan Enstad and Lisa Levenstein, longtime friends and teachers, had considered starting a podcast for a few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic gave them the timely and necessary impetus to record their first episode.
It also convinced them that the podcast, “Collegelandwould emphasize higher education. As campuses began closing last spring, the couple began discussing their “anxiety” about the need for better storytelling about colleges and universities, said Nan Enstad, professor of community and environmental sociology. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The first thing we did in September was search and search for higher education podcasts, and we couldn’t find any that replicated what we do,” Enstad said. “We’re looking for stories about what universities could be but aren’t. Unlike most public relations, we are happy to criticize universities and see what their shortcomings are and think about what universities could be.
The Collegeland team noticed that coverage of higher education often falls into two camps. On the one hand, critics — often working in think tanks or right-wing commentaries — denounce colleges and universities as elite bubbles. On the other hand, public relations and communications departments describe them as places of idyllic opportunity. They wanted to resist both and fill the void between the two.
For his first interview, Enstad spoke with UW-Madison epidemiologist Malia Jones about his viral public health project “Dear Pandemic”. But she also knew that “Collegeland” had to walk a fine line: While the pandemic had disrupted every aspect of college life, listeners probably wouldn’t want every episode to be about it.
In eight bi-weekly episodes, “Collegeland” has featured campuses and people from across the United States, which are only scratching the surface of a host of pressing issues, said Lisa Levenstein, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. National trends show that colleges and universities have increased spending on new buildings, administrative salaries and pre-professional programs at the expense of lower-paid workers and humanities or liberal arts, it said. she declared.
“These changes have been happening for a few decades, and the pandemic has, in some ways, accelerated that,” Levenstein said. “There are a lot of amazing things happening in higher education that we celebrate and want to elevate. There are also many concerning things that we want to highlight and places that need to be defended, questioned and perhaps challenged.
Conversations with real people are the “pivot of every episode,” Levenstein said. Through interviews, instead of excessive statistics or in-depth political analysis, she hopes to highlight the diversity of people beyond the big universities, including by herself: “We don’t hear about these other campus types. We don’t hear their stories.
In the sixth episode, “Collegeland” tackled food insecurity, which producer and UW-Madison doctoral candidate Richelle Wilson says will hopefully combat the narrative of privileged 18-22-year-old students. The most recent, “Beyond the Land-Grab University,” includes an interview with an Indigenous forestry professor about how universities can mend their relationship with stolen land and Indigenous tribes.
“I’m really going to be like, ‘What would my mom be interested in? How do you get that across to someone like her, who is into education as a person but doesn’t know much about higher education?” said Wilson, a first-generation college student. “(The land grant episode) was a really transformative interview. I would call them hidden stories. The best are the ones that we believe are not told elsewhere.
Another story in Wilson’s mind is the experience of graduate students like her. The extra money from the “Collegeland” podcast, which is funded by Wisconsin Humanities, was a huge boost for Wilson, but she said she wanted to cover up the financial precariousness and misunderstandings that surround graduate students.
“Collegeland” may slow production over the summer, but Enstad plans to continue tackling new aspects of college life that people wouldn’t even think of — like the college presses, discussed in Episode 7, or the dormitory cleaning, featured in an upcoming episode.
“How do colleges and universities fit into their communities, and how do communities and universities become part of public life? said Enstad. “There’s so much room – we talk about how, even at a school like Madison, things happen on campus, but I have no idea what that is. It’s huge , and people take their little paths through the campus that I rarely take.