Lisa Levenstein launches podcast on higher education

Posted on June 14, 2021

Woman looks at camera in front of campus building

Woman looks at camera in front of campus building

Dr. Lisa Levenstein, a professor of history and director of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, has launched a podcast that explores the “untold stories” at college campuses across the country. The biweekly podcast, Collegeland, is co-hosted by Dr. Nan Enstad, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Collegeland graphic“We were struck by the fact that there are so many myths out there about higher education,” said Levenstein. “So many people think that it’s an institution run by and for the elite that is disconnected from the rest of public life. We want to tell real stories about what’s actually happening on campuses and explore how colleges and universities are essential in fostering our common good.”

Higher education is also changing rapidly, they say. And these shifts can be difficult to follow, even for two university professors.

“It felt important to us to try to chronicle some of the changes and find new ways to talk about them,” said Levenstein.

So far, the duo have released ten episodes covering a range of topics from tales of a campus housekeeper to the role of university science labs in conducting research behind COVID-19 vaccines. Balancing criticism and praise, they’ve discussed the challenges of online teaching, the role higher education can play in refugee resettlement, and the significance of land-grant universities.

Since it started airing in January 2021, Collegeland has seen some surprising ripple effects. Their episode about food insecurity, for example, caught the attention of the Fair Share CSA Coalition in Madison, Wisconsin. The CSA is now using selections from the episode to fundraise for an app to connect residents to healthy food.

two women smile for camera
Nan Enstad (above) and Lisa Levenstein work on Collegeland. Enstad is under a blanket, and Levenstein is in a closet, two tricks for getting better audio quality when taping at home.

The project has also had its challenges, they say, requiring many hours of research and preparation for each episode.

“Hosting a podcast is a skill set that requires a lot of practice,” Levenstein said. “It’s still something I’m learning how to do.”

Yet the conversations on Collegeland have also opened their eyes in meaningful ways. For Enstad, it was interviewing Dr. Mike Dockery, a forestry professor at the University of Minnesota, who argued that universities have underserved Native students, even while many university endowments are drawn from sales of expropriated American Indian lands.

“Yet what really sticks with me is [Dockry’s] vision for what a university could be: a center for indigenous thought,” Enstad said.

For Levenstein, it was interviewing Tracy Harter, a housekeeper at UNC Chapel Hill, who shared an often unseen perspective of life on a college campus, including the relationships that develop between housekeepers and students.

“When Tracy talked about why she attended the student protest against the Silent Sam statue, it brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

Collegeland can be listened to at or through any major podcast provider.

Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences
Portrait photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications. Other photography courtesy of Lisa Levenstein.

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