Experience MAPACA

Skyler Gibbon and a group of fellow graduate students attended the Mid Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association conference last November. Read about Skyler’s experiences below! 

Skyler Gibbon at a panel discussion.

As graduate students, we get fun opportunities outside the boundaries of this university… or county… or state. These opportunities often come in the form of conferences — a gathering of students and professors coming to share their work. This often means creating connections and building relationships with people of similar area interests. 

This past November, several English graduate students left for Pittsburgh for a three day trip to the Mid Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (MAPACA) conference. This took place at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, which is at the heart of the Cultural District (and also has the best taco restaurant around). We all went bearing different ideas to share, from play pedagogy to hip hop poetics. I presented ideas from my thesis: The Rhetorical Influence and Hermeneutics of Hip Hop Culture. I talked about how “Holy Profanity” and hip hop artist use the sacred to express authentic experiences. I have presented on this topic before, but this was on a larger scale. It was not only helpful to hear audience members provide insights for my work, but to also hear notions of using my work in their curriculum.

There was an array of presentations up for viewing, all organized by specific areas of study – lgbtq studies, film studies, religious studies, game studies, etc… Unfortunately, the presentations overlap with each other, so it was impossible to go to as many presentations as I wanted to. However, I was intrigued by all that I did see. I watched presentations from the beginning to end of day, each day. 

Because a number of the people I traveled with are invested in game studies, I found myself watching presentations in this, which I don’t do traditionally. I am usually to be found in studies involving a typical social justice connection. I am not so familiar with game studies and play pedagogy, so this was a good opportunity to get more informed. I watched professors dress up in superhero costumes in a skit to demonstrate the value of comic book pedagogy. This fed my curiosity while also being quite entertaining. I went in with the hopes of catching my professor looking like Spiderwoman. I was disappointed that this didn’t happen, but she promises that there will be a costume for both of us next year. 

Jason Hertz presenting at the conference.

There was quite a bit of play, actually. As a person who is really interested in looking for ways to build bridges through vulnerability, I was really intrigued by one of the gaming presentations we saw together. The presenter showed us three different games that use love and sex themes to build intimacy and vulnerability between players. Afterwards, Dr. Nicole Pfannenstiel co-led a “parlor games” session, where we played a card game that she and another graduate student co-created. This game was a really fun way of practicing rhetorical skills. The simplest way I can describe it is as a creative Apples to Apples with rhetoric. 

There were a few chances to socialize, as well. There was a graduate student social, where participants played “MAPACA Jeopardy.” Winners received Starbucks gift cards (because what would a graduate student want more?).  There was also a reception and a formal dinner, where leaders were recognized for the labor they put into creating and organizing this conference. As a little outing in the city, I went to see a play production of The Scarlet Letter, which was really impressively done.

Overall and looking back, this was a really great time. It exceeded my expectations. Getting to travel in a car with others to a different place brought adventure to our academia (and laughter). I got to explore a bit of the historically and culturally rich, old city of Pittsburgh. Also, every conference I go to is a reminder of how my work connects with the work of others. I look forward to applying to MAPACA next year (which is in Princeton, NJ), as well as any other conferences that come my way!

If you are interested in participating in MAPACA, do get in touch with either Dr. Nicole Pfannenstiel or Dr. Caleb Corkery. They  will help guide you through the submission, travel, and presentation aspects if this is your first conference.

Skyler Gibbon