DePaul University College of Communication > Faculty & Staff > Faculty Focus > Meet the Program Director: Kelly Kessler on Media and Cinema Studies

Meet the Program Director: Kelly Kessler on Media and Cinema Studies


"I believe that the classroom is a place for self-discovery, self-reflection, and personal responsibility. In my classes, I hope to foster a respect for these three characteristics, while encouraging a sense of scholarly curiosity and a respect for student-professor and student-student interaction."
- Professor Kelly Kessler, Media and Cinema Studies Program Director

On the MA in Media and Cinema Studies Program

The Media and Cinema Studies (MCS) program was designed to engage with our ever-evolving and merging media cultures. Approaching the study through various types of media (e.g. film, television, new media, graphic novels), scholarly approaches (e.g. genre, identity politics, fandom, technology, industry, media literacy), and various temporal vantage points (past, present, and theorized future), we hope students will consider the swell of media in their lives (and those of others) and the ways in which various approaches speak to and through each other.

On the Type of Student MCS Seeks

In terms of backgrounds, our students bring a range of skills and training to the program (a quality I believe strengthens the in-class experience). While a background in media studies, film studies, or mass communication may give incoming students a leg-up in terms of initial scholarly context, a variety of educational and professional backgrounds can prepare students equally well for our program. Most importantly, our students must have the desire and ability to read and write at a graduate level and engage critically with the shifting status of media within contemporary and past cultures. Otherwise, the program is what the students bring to it.

If a student would like to further his or her academic endeavors within a program that offers a diversity of content within an intimate and rigorous setting, the Media and Cinema Studies program would be an excellent fit.

Why our Program is a Unique Place to Study Media and Cinema

Students should be prepared to do a good amount of writing in most of their courses. That said, I know that my courses—and those of others—often integrate presentations, with students serving as the facilitators for assigned readings. Both our production courses and studies course—such as those on fandom and media literacy—use projects as a means to critically investigate the topic at hand. To complete the program, students can choose between more traditional written theses or comps or they may combine production and writing through the thesis project, which combines a project and analytical paper. In the recent past, students have used this opportunity to examine issues of media literacy through elementary school targeted math apps, ethnic representation through radio production, and the ideological bias of documentary production through filmmaking.

We do have — be they limited — opportunities for students to serve as teaching assistants for our undergraduate Media and Cinema Studies students. Working alongside the faculty, these graduate students are able to gain valuable experience through both teaching and observing. DePaul has a strong internship program, and while many students who work full-time during the day may find these opportunities less practical, others can take advantage of the city’s extremely vibrant mediascape to both gain professional experience and examine the media industries from the inside. Additionally, we encourage our students to take advantage of local, regional, and national conferences and conventions, both as a means to engage with the larger academic community and expand the ways in which they see their own scholarship.

We hope that the entire College of Communication Media and Cinema Studies experience will help to move students forward in their professional and academic pursuits. Through rigorous coursework and one-on-one mentoring we hope to help students both to discover their own paths and hone their skills in writing, research, and critical analysis. Through an annual faculty-guided workshop series we walk students through the processes of scholarly publications, conferences, thesis/project preparation, and PhD applications. At the end of the program, our students should be prepared to either apply to a PhD program or utilize their strengthened research, writing, and cultural analysis skills within the professional world.

What Drew Professor Kessler to the Discipline?

My honest answer sounds less than scholarly. I grew up obsessed with television and film. My days and weeks were structured around the television schedule. Instead of playing house, I played M*A*S*H, Eight is Enough, or One Day at a Time. The day I realized studying popular culture was an option, I was there for the long haul. That said, fandom wasn’t reason enough to pursue a career in media studies. Ultimately, a desire to interrogate the role media played in my own development and that of others guided much of my work.

During my graduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin, I had the opportunity to convert a slightly reflective sense of fandom into a deeper consideration of the interplay of genre and gender within.

Why Do You Teach at DePaul?

I saw DePaul as an ideal fit. Valuing both teaching and research, it allows me to focus on my work inside and out of the classroom; many universities require one to sacrifice one for the other. As for my favorite thing (and as a musical scholar I will resist lapsing into a verse from The Sound of Music here), I think two of the things that I value most about the DePaul experience in general and the Media and Cinema Studies program specifically are the collegiality and diversity among our faculty and the way in which our small size and focus on masters students encourages the development of close working relationships. Although many programs focus more fully on one medium or another, our faculty—who are really a great group of folks—provide students a nice balance of television, film, new media, American and international television and film, and mainstream and more marginalized texts. The breadth of our faculty specialties allows for students to find their niche once they begin their studies, rather than funneling them into one of a few areas.

My research engages primarily with issues of genre, gender, and sexuality (while not always all three at the same time). The bulk of my published work has either engaged with the shifting form of the musical—including my book Destabilizing the Hollywood Musical: Music, Masculinity, and Mayhem and current work on the musical on television—or the mainstreaming of lesbian imagery on American television and film, including work on primetime darlings Friends and Mad About You, the Wachowskis’s lesbian noir Bound, and the Showtime series The L Word. I enjoy examining the ways in which television and film content and the genres they inhabit reflect and respond to shifts in industrial structures, viewer participation, and cultural norms.

What Makes Chicago a Special City to You?

I was born and bred in Illinois and chose to come back after an extended hiatus in southern Indiana, Cleveland, New York City, and New Jersey, but I’d have to say: The food. New Yorkers can claim they have cornered the market on good food, but the "flyover states" can hold their own. While a huge fan of the Chicago dog (or any dog for that matter), the city also offers amazing Indian, Vietnamese, and hidden Mexican food (and this ex-Austinite is a Mexican food snob).

The connection between the lake and the city. After living in New York for four years, I never felt as if the water was an integrated part of the experience. The lake is Chicago.

Chicago combines the excitement and diversity of a big city with the welcoming calm of the Midwest. In the words of The Beverly Hillbillies, "Come in and set a spell. Take your shoes off."​