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These days, some colleges are offering more than your typical sociology or public speaking electives. (iStockphoto)

Not Your Run-Of-The-Mill College Courses

by John Asante
Aug 17, 2011

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John Asante

When my sister told me she was taking a course in African drumming during her sophomore year of college, the first words out of my mouth were, "You've got to be kidding me." I was stunned and jealous at the same time. And that wasn't even the most unorthodox elective. She had friends taking golf and bowling. Somehow, I needed to find a way to jump on this bandwagon.

Sadly, I couldn't, since we attended different universities. After talking with a few of my friends, I was close to hitting the jackpot. At my school, the "edgiest" popular electives were World Foods and Sex and Society (note: these were two separate courses). But I opted to take an Intro to Classical Guitar elective. Getting credit for learning to read sheet music (again) as well as twelve bar blues was indeed a nice getaway in my day from the rigors of Communication Law and Media Theory. Little did I know that other institutions of higher learning are offering even stranger courses than I'd ever imagine.

The Root features eight peculiar, off-the-wall courses, some of them taught by famous artists. Here are a few of them:

"Sampling Soul," Duke University
Grammy Award-winning DJ and producer 9th Wonder put his professorial headphones on with this course he taught with Mark Anthony Neal. Centered on Neal's book, What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Popular Culture, the class touched on all things soul and pop, from intellectual property rights to Nas' 1994 classic, Illmatic.

"Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame," University of South Carolina

In this course, students didn't listen to Gaga music or watch her videos, since the focus was less on Lady Gaga the artist and more on the sociology behind her out-of-this-world rise to fame. Professor Mathieu Deflem used the star's celebrity to examine marketing, gay culture, religion, politics, sexuality and New York City.

"The N-Word: An Anatomy," Arizona State University
"I was curious to see if the discussion of one of the most provocative words in the English language could sustain a rigorous intellectual discussion for 15 weeks," said professor Neal Lester. He challenged students to think about the word's "shifting use" in American culture, illustrated in his course by a viewing of a famous Saturday Night Live clipin which Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor spew racial slurs at each other.

And I thought writing a paper about the rhetorical theories found in The Office was pretty unique! So, what's the most bizarre course your university has offered? And if you've taken one, what did you learn from it?

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