Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Makin' Magic at St. Kate's: The Joys of ACTC

In spirit of the fast-approaching movie premiere of the much anticipated 1st installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I thought I'd reflect on my own academic experience with the bespectacled literary icon.

Macalester, being a small liberal arts college, might have a trickier time competing with larger universities in terms of the breadth of classes offered, but the college has taken advantage of its close proximity with other Twin Cities colleges in order to offer large university course listings while still preserving the small-college feel.

Mac is one of five schools that has formed a consortium known as the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC). Students from these five schools (which also include Hamline University, Augsburg College, St. Thomas College, and St. Catherine's University) are eligible to enlist in classes at any of the other four schools, entirely free of charge, as part of a reciprocity system. A small shuttle bus (an inspired little toaster on wheels held together with a handful of bolts and navigated by a congenial guy named Harold) chugs around the campuses delivering students to and from their classes.

Last semester I took advantage of this system to take an interesting, brand new, student-initiated English class offered at St. Kate's. My class was called "Introduction to the Novel: The 6 Degrees of Harry Potter."

Yeah, you heard me.

On the first day of class I took my seat at the center of the classroom (later dubbed "The Room of Requirement"), had a pointed witch's hat placed on my head and was Sorted into Ravenclaw House ("Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure"). My House was my focus group: our theme in analyzing the novels was the application of literary theory to the study of the seven-part saga. Hufflepuffs studied spirituality and religion, Gryffindors evaluated mythological references and the "hero cycle", and Slytherins researched the physics of the impossible. My group and I gave presentations on feminist tropes from Goblet of Fire, a Marxist critique of Chamber of Secrets, and for our creative presentation we drafted the class into four teams and held our own Quidditch Cup Tournament (note the Chudley Cannons poster in the background of the picture):

(Ravenclaws: Me, Jenny-- a Hamline grad student, Treza and Sarah)

Apart from being enthralled by the actual class, and in constant admiration of my professor, Cecilia Konchar-Farr (aka McGonagall, author of Reading Oprah: How Oprah's Book Club Changed the Way America Reads) I really enjoyed meeting people outside of the Macalester community. I made great friends with my Ravenclaw cohorts and together we formed a Trivia brigade, putting out considerable collective brainpower to good use, christening ourselves "The Ken Jennings Experiment". The Tuesday Night Trivia Ritual had us racing down to the Green Mill restaurant on Grand where Trivia Man (aka Kip) patrols the restaurant shouting out trivia questions. Winners get gift cards and existential validation.

Cecilia even joined us a few times in order to discuss the dubiousness of Dumbledore's morality and debate whether or not Barthes had it right
when he said the author is dead. One night the Ken Jennings Experiment rose victorious and claimed first place after a nail-biting tie- breaker (John Paul Stevens' name is worth 30 points in a game of Scrabble, in case anyone was curious).

Harry Potter class ended, unfortunately, but Tuesday Trivia with the St. Kate's crew lives on, and I'm grateful for having had the chance to meet people and make friends outside of the Mac bubble.