All Posts Tagged With: "social justice"
Students connect through Potter clubs and classes
Two summers ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 arrived at the cinema in Ancaster, Ont., Stephanie Kesler took the day off work and lined up for 12 hours to make sure she got a good seat. Afterward, Kesler, now 23, says she felt “a little bit sad.” Growing up she had eagerly anticipated each of J.K. Rowling’s books and films. “That was my whole childhood.”
But last semester, the third-year English student at Western University in London, Ont., realized that the end of the series didn’t mean saying goodbye. In her children’s literature course, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was on the syllabus.
For her class assignment, Kesler presented to her peers on the symbolism of Rowling’s Dementors, dark creatures that suck the life out of people, and the Patronus Charm, the only thing that can fight them off. She likened the Dementors to depression and the Patronas to overcoming it through positive thinking.
Not far away at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., dozens of wizarding fans had a similar idea. Emma Morrison, a third-year Medieval Studies and Religion major, had started a chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance, a global network of campus and community clubs where Potter fans jointly work for social justice. The Laurier chapter’s first big project focused on Dementors and depression. After a social media campaign promoting awareness of mental health services on campus, the group held a Yule Ball (a Hogwarts-inspired formal) during February mid-terms. “We wanted to have something fun to allow people to let loose in their time of stress,” she says. More than 220 showed up for butter beer and dancing.
Professor Gabrielle Ceraldi, who teaches children’s literature at Western, is unsurprised by the focus on the Dementors. “Emotional states in the series are always represented through magic,” she says. Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards, is bewildering, much like university, she points out. “The staircases never stay in the same place from one period of class to the next.”
Ceraldi, who has only just heard about the Harry Potter Alliance, will soon teach what she believes is the first Canadian course fully dedicated to the books. She has also just learned about the Quidditch leagues where students use broomsticks and throw Quaffles, yet another of the ways today’s university students are connecting to each other and to school through Harry Potter.
Harry helps them connect to school by introducing academic themes. One obvious example is the classism Hermione Granger highlights with her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW), a group she starts to fight for the underclass toiling in Hogwarts’ kitchens. Harry and Ron first turn up their noses at Hermione, “but, in the end,” Ceraldi says, “grasping the value of house elves becomes pivotal to the triumph of good over evil.”
Morrison, the Laurier student, suggests that the theme of classism was inspired by Rowling’s own life. “Before she published Harry Potter, [Rowling] was a single mom who didn’t have a lot of money and relied on the government for a lot of what she was able to provide her children,” she points out.
Racism is exemplified in the mudbloods, people who come from muggle (non-magic) families and end up being capable of magic. At one point in the series, the mudbloods are accused of stealing wands from true witches and wizards, which leads to (ironically) a witch hunt.
Classism and racism were both considered by the Laurier chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance this year when they learned about child labour on African cocoa plantations and then collected signatures on a petition demanding Warner Bros. use fair trade chocolate in all their Potter treats.
But the Laurier chapter isn’t just for humanitarian work. Morrison says it’s also a place “where fans can get together and nerd out.” One just-for-fun meeting offered tea leaf readings.
Ceraldi says the Potter books offer more than social justice lessons. In her upcoming course they will provide an entry to other genres of fiction, including Gothic, dystopian and detective. Students may be asked to compare one book to a Sherlock Holmes novel and another to a story by Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell who, long before Rowling, used a mirror to symbolize self-reflection.
Though it’s not until January, Ceraldi is getting many e-mails from students wanting to sign up. They’re keen, she says, writing things like, ‘I am the person I am today because of those books.’
That, she says, is unsurprising. “They know these stories have incredible power and meaning.”
June Larkin earns 3M National Teaching Fellowship
June Larkin, a lecturer in Women and Gender Studies and Equity Studies and vice-principal of New College at the University of Toronto, is a 3M National Teaching Fellowship recipient for 2013. Maclean’s On Campus is profiling all 10.
Before June Larkin ever attended a university class, she was engrossed in the intricacies of social justice as a primary-school teacher.
As a “mature student” balancing her undergraduate studies in psychology, feminist studies and education with her teaching job, she saw firsthand the interplay between gender and social equality on the playground as the children fought, played and formed peer groups. When she went on to do her PhD, she used her background as a teacher to write her doctorate about sexual harassment in high schools. “Working as a teacher was one of the things that attracted me to equity studies,” she says, “Now, as a professor, I have always tried to bridge theoretical concepts with practical, community-based application.”
Campus conservatives celebrate
The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) will no longer get $4.36 from each Queen’s student after 62 per cent of voters in last week’s referendum supported eliminating the fee.
OPIRG and its individual branches have been controversial on Canadian campuses for promoting what critics say are left-wing political causes that don’t reflect the wider community’s beliefs.
The Public Interest Research Groups at more than one Canadian university have been criticized for supporting Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual event that encourages sanctions against Israel.
Stuart Clark, who organized the anti-OPIRG campaign, made a similar argument that student’s fees shouldn’t go to political causes. After winning, he posted this on the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association’s Facebook wall: “We took down OPIRG. I think celebrations are in order!”