by Lauren Abramson
Each year, the Mississippi Humanities Council honors outstanding scholars who have made significant contributions to the humanities in Mississippi. This year, Dr. Curtis Coats, director of the communication studies major and co-director of the film studies minor at Millsaps College, received the Humanities Teacher Award.
Coats came to Millsaps in 2009 to develop the communication studies program. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas, where he graduated with honors, Coats pursued a master’s degree in Journalism from University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also got his Ph.D. in Communication. This is his first full time teaching position, and yet his students in the communication studies deptartment consistently rave about his expertise and skill, as do his colleagues. Dr. David Davis, Associate Dean of the Humanities comments, “Dr. Coats is being honored for his leadership and vision in developing our Communications Studies major. We are fortunate to have someone who understands how the liberal arts can and should inform that discipline.”
Communication studies at Millsaps is unique from other programs in a variety of ways, providing opportunities for students to explore an array of interests, research projects, and internships under Coats’ guidance. “Our program is more conceptual based than it is skills based,” Coats says. “We do have the media production sequence, such as journalism, but many of the classes are more about history, theory, and ethics. Even our production classes are more than just how to do this or that skill. They are thinking about aesthetics. They are also thinking about ethics. They are thinking about design and history. It’s not just about learning a skill. It’s about learning a certain skill in a context of the liberal arts.”
Dr. Coats has completed research in the fields of new age tourism and gender and Christianity and media. His research focuses on identity, and “how identity intersects with media and culture,” themes he helped students explore in his “Sun, Sand and Cults of Death” course this summer in the Yucatan. The course focused on identity and tourism, and how tourists impact the development and continuation of culture around them.
“New age tourism is probably my first love, I suppose, in scholarship,” Coats says. “I became interested in it after a trip to Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. I became interested in how indigenous cultures had to, in essence, sell their culture, their homes, in some ways their identities, in order to survive in mainstream culture. So, I’m interested in how indigenous cultures and white tourists interact and engage one another and how media influence that interaction.”
Dean Keith Dunn writes, “Curtis is an inspirational teacher and mentor, a productive and respected scholar, and a model campus citizen.” As a recipient of this award, Dr. Coats will give a public lecture titled, Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Modernity in room AC 215 at 4 p.m. Nov. 13.