The New School’s ‘Drag Race’ class gets a surprise visit from RuPaul’s rising queens

The New School’s ‘Drag Race’ class gets a surprise visit from RuPaul’s rising queens

“To snatch a word from the ‘Drag Race’ lexicon, the students were gagged,” the teacher said.

The cast of "RuPaul's Drag Race" season 11 visit The New School's class, "RuPaul's Drag and Its Impact." 
The cast of "RuPaul’s Drag Race" season 11 visit The New School’s class, "RuPaul’s Drag and Its Impact."  Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

“Drag Race” fans, The New School has an undergraduate course that’ll make you wish you were back in college.

Last week, the cast of the eleventh season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” got schooled by a group of 18 New York City students studying the history of drag.

“My question to them, honestly, was what they talked about. How do you get away with a whole class on ‘Drag Race’?” city queen Scarlet Envy (an FIT alum) said during an interview at amNewYork’s office on Monday.

The course, titled “RuPaul’s Drag and Its Impact,” mimics one first offered at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 2013. It made its debut at the Greenwich Village campus in January.

Joe E. Jeffreys, the adjunct New School professor behind the class, said his goal is to “contextualize drag historically.” Famous drag documentary and film projects serve as his guides, from 1968’s “The Queen” to 1990s’ “Paris Is Burning.”

Jeffreys, a drag historian, pitched the idea for the four-credit course to the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at The New School last year. He’s been studying female impersonation for several years and has produced Drag Show Video Verite, an online moving image record that archives rare video and photo footage from NYC drag shows. His work has been screened at the MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Tate Modern in London.

He structures his biweekly course similarly to an episode of “Drag Race” — with mini challenges culminating in a final runway battle — which naturally helped fill its capacity almost immediately after being listed for the spring semester.  

“The students are all tremendous ‘Drag Race’ fans,” he says, adding that the class has attracted a diverse range of academic backgrounds. “I do have a religious studies major, media studies, lesbian and gay studies. I love those outside perspectives.”

Don’t get too excited, hennies. The challenges in Jeffreys’ class may be disguised as “Drag Race”-worthy battles, but the students are still thinking contextually, writing academic essays, producing video projects and presenting their findings weekly. But, of course, watching “Drag Race” will become a crucial part of their homework assignments.  

“They’re looking at how [drag has] all come together, over time, to become such a social media phenomenon and how it really influences real life,” said season 11 queen Ariel Versace, who made a surprise visit to the class last week alongside 14 of her competitors.

“To snatch a word from the ‘Drag Race’ lexicon, the students were gagged when the contestants walked through the door,” Jeffreys said. “Pandemonium erupted.”

Their class discussion began with tips on prepping for “Drag Race,” and quickly evolved into a chat about its representation of gender, race and body image. The class also debated the need to become an authentic personality to thrive on a reality show.

“We talked about the social-political ripple that the show has in terms of how people are treated on a day-to-day basis,” Envy said. “No longer is it just like a punchline on a reality show. It has the power and you will see, we can’t talk about it, but you’ll see in this season the real power the show has.”

While in New York City, the cast of “Drag Race” also visited the cast of “Prom! The Musical” on Wednesday. They went backstage to snap photos with the cast to show support for the LGBTQ musical.

ON TV: “Drag Race” returns to VH1 on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 9 p.m.

Meghan Giannotta