Class of 2015: Caroline Hatfield mines insight from studying the female image

MyVU asked 13 graduating seniors how they found immersion at Vanderbilt and got as many different answers. We’re featuring their stories in the lead up to Commencement on May 8.

If you’re funny, you don’t have to be perfect.

That’s what senior Caroline Hatfield discovered in a research project about the cultural expectations by which female celebrities are judged compared to how society judges female comedians.

Hatfield focused on conventional femininity norms—beauty, grooming, politeness and weight, for example—and studied mass media stories on female celebrities. She found that some media judged and criticized the women by feminine stereotypes, but that they didn’t hold comedians like Tina Fey or Amy Poehler to the same standards.

“To be funny, you can’t be perfect,” Hatfield said. “Perfect is boring. And so [rquote]these female comedians get a little bit more room to be real—a little bit more dynamic and freer from those constraints.”[/rquote]

An interdisciplinary studies major, Hatfield said she has always been interested in comedy. She did a paper on Saturday Night Live for a first-year communication class and has pursued the topic since. Last summer she worked in a comedy club, and she takes improvisation classes.

That doesn’t mean she’ll be doing the comedy circuit after Commencement. Instead, she’s going to work for Venture for America. “It’s like Teach for America in that they hire fellows and send them out to startups in key cities,” she said. “The intent is to rejuvenate the cities through entrepreneurship. We’ll help the companies, and they’ll help us learn to be entrepreneurs.”

Hatfield, who grew up in Arkansas and spent part of her teen years in Colorado, said her four years at Vanderbilt provided her with the right mix of academics and fun. The academics included working with Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Claire Sisco King on the celebrity project as part of the Littlejohn Family Undergraduate Research Program.

Caroline Hatfield is an Eldon Stevenson Scholarship recipient.
Caroline Hatfield is an Eldon Stevenson Scholarship recipient. (Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)

The fun that Hatfield refers to includes her work on Vanderbilt Television, membership and leadership in Chi Omega, and hanging out with her Best Buddy, Mike, for a program that pairs Vanderbilt students with young people with developmental disabilities. “He’s the best. I’ve been involved with Best Buddies since freshman year,” Hatfield said. “We have so much fun together. That consumed a lot of my time in the best of ways.”

Perhaps it’s not coincidence that Hatfield chose to investigate stereotypical portrayals and expectations.

“I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned at Vanderbilt is the importance of embracing people who are different from you. Not just accepting them or noticing them or tolerating them, but embracing them and leaning in and asking questions and building relationships with people who are different from you,” Hatfield said. “You’re wasting your time if you’re spending it only with people who are like you. That’s the biggest thing I’m going to take away from Vandy, bigger than any class, any research project or any club.”