Harry Potter Has Staying Power in Sociology Course

Fun feature I wrote with a video package on an online course on the Sociology of Harry Potter at Frostburg State

Frostburg State Students Explore Sociology of Harry Potter
10/29/2015


How does the Minister of Magic influence criminal justice in Harry Potter’s Wizarding World?

Does villain Voldemort’s control rival that of Adolph Hitler during World War II?

The fascinating questions and arguments about the lives of wizards and muggles are just some of the discussions in a special topics sociology class offered at Frostburg State University: The Sociology of Harry Potter.

“Everybody knows at least something about the Wizarding World, even if they are not fans of Harry Potter. They know there are wands and there is magic. They might even know about Death Eaters and Dementors,” said Dr. Mandy Vandivier, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology who is teaching the 400-level, three-credit course.

Students based at both the Frostburg campus and at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown are exploring the interpersonal relationships and how they influence society in Potter’s world in the online class. Sociology is the study of human society, so recognizing the same forces at work in a fictional society can be illuminating.

Zachary Yeager of Calvert County was excited he could take the course at Frostburg.

“I’ve seen it at big D-1 schools, but I didn’t think we’d have something cool like this,” said the FSU senior.

Vandivier wanted to create a sociology class that can dive deep into a familiar world.

“We can take this opportunity and review all of it using sociological imagination to gain a deeper understanding of someone else’s culture without explaining what it’s like in that culture because we have such an inherent knowledge about that culture and our own,” she said.

The class also attracted students who weren’t Potter fanatics, but who were intrigued by what the course offered.

“I’m not a Harry Potter nerd as I would say, but I decided to take it, and I like it so far,” said sociology and psychology double major Maame Ackon.

Ackon has not read any of J.K. Rowling’s books, but saw some of the Potter movies. The class actually sparked her interest to revisit Potter.

“We have Harry Potter nights with my friends, and we do a game together when we watch the movies,” said Ackon, a College Park resident. “It’s pretty fun.”

Some issues that have been discussed in class include stigma, how people with mental illness are seen in both worlds, criminal justice or the comparison of werewolves in the Harry Potter world to those with HIV in the real world, Vandivier said.

“There’ve been times when a student has said something, and I said, ‘Wow, I never thought about it that way. That’s a brilliant idea!’” she said. “It’s awesome to see my students come up with great ideas.”

Ackon compared arch-villain Voldemort to Hitler in one of her posts.

“It’s a weird analogy, and people didn’t agree with me on that, but in my mind they kind of controlled their worlds,” she said.

Yeager pulled from his law and society studies and compared criminal justice in the U.S. with Potter’s society, looking at the frequency of death and murder as well as prisons. He was just as interested in a classmate’s argument about Squibs – someone without magical powers despite having parents with magical powers.

“They brought up how they’re the outsiders of the Harry Potter world because they don’t have magic and can’t really do anything,” Yeager said. “The student compared Squibs with people who have diseases in the real world because they’re looked at like outcasts. I would have never thought of that.”

Ackon said she feels connected to her online classmates through replying to each other’s posts on discussion boards.

“It’s all completely interactive, and we all ‘talk’ to each other,” said Ackon, who also completed another special topics course in the spring, The Sociology of Reality Shows.

To bridge the two campus communities, as well as bring the online students together in real life, the class organized several events, including a Quidditch match played on the Upper Quad on the Frostburg campus. Students from campus were all smiles, running from end to end with broomsticks between their legs in a hectic game that combines elements of handball, dodgeball, soccer and tag.

“It’s a lot of running – more than people thought there would be,” Yeager said. The Quidditch game was so successful that students have expressed interest in starting a Quidditch club.

Students also plan to march in the Frostburg Halloween Parade. In Hagerstown they will join together for a costume party, furthering the celebration of Potter.

Vandivier is also thrilled that Harry Potter’s story is continuing, creating new source material for when her class is offered again in fall 2016. A new play, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II,” debuts next year, serving as the eighth story in the Potter series.

Vandivier will also offer Social Movements of Harry Potter in the spring 2016 semester, examining the movements of Hermione Granger’s Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.), Dumbledore’s Army and other aspects.

For more information on attending FSU, contact the Office of Admissions at 301-687-4201 or FSUAdmissions@frostburg.edu.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

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