Harry Potter has the magic touch for Cal Poly Pomona students in love with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s novels.
The Harry Potter literature class, which the university started offering four years ago, recently was designated as a general education course. In addition, a student who grew up reading the books has started a club on campus dedicated to all things Harry Potter.
Professor Melissa Aaron, who occasionally dons a wizard’s robe, says she was a bit tentative while going through the process last year to make the class a GE course.
“Mostly everybody has been very supportive,” she says. “I expected people to say, ‘Is this serious enough?’ Everybody said, ‘Can I take that course?’ ”
The proposal passed in the Academic Senate in June, so students who take the course next fall will get GE credit. Aaron says she expects the course will be reviewed again to make sure it meets the new guidelines for semester conversion in 2018.
“We have made a real commitment to it,” Aaron says. “I am very proud of it.”
During a recent Wednesday afternoon, a packed class of students sat at desks that circled the room. They shared tips on finding articles to go with their research paper topics and discussed the themes in the Harry Potter books, which range from racism to being an only child.
The students talked about characters in the book that never made it to the screen adaptations. One student’s question about why they never put the character Peeves, a poltergeist, in the movie brought a chorus of agreement around the room in the form of nodding heads and “yeahs.”
The class reinforces engagement with literature, Aaron says.
“The participation rate is very high,” she says. “Everybody has something to say. They are very engaged and that’s a wonderful thing.”
For Aaron and her students, Harry Potter is serious study. The course is only offered in the fall, so that students can re-read all seven books during the summer, a requirement that must be met by the first class.
“It’s not a fan club,” she says. “The students have to work very hard.”
Aaron says she fell in love with the Harry Potter books about 15 years ago. The Shakespeare scholar was recovering from a bout with bronchitis at Christmas time when her mother handed her the first three books in the series. She kept reading.
“I was so captured by ‘Prisoner of Azkaban,’ ” she says.
Students in college have grown up on Harry Potter, Aaron says, adding that the books are good for talking about literary genres.
“It is mystery,” she says. “It is epic. It’s coming of age. You can tie it to all kinds of genres.”
Aaron hopes the course’s new GE designation will draw students from a variety of majors.
“As a course just in the English curriculum, it is attracting English majors and that’s wonderful,” she says. “But I want it to appeal to everybody. We have a diverse campus and I want to have engineers and scientists, hospitality and business folks.”
Samantha Hee, a second-year hospitality major, plans on taking the course next year. The Harry Potter enthusiast is keeping herself busy in the meantime by starting a campus club dedicated to lovers of the books.
Hee started Dumbledore’s Army on campus this year. Aaron serves as the club’s advisor, although the group is not associated with the class.
Hee, who is studying to be an events planner, says she started a chapter of Dumbledore’s Army when she was at San Marino High School, with a mission to help save the muggle, or mortal, world.
The high school club was required to focus on service, so students completed projects such as pick up trash at Venice Beach and serve food to the parents of ill children at a Ronald McDonald House, she says.
The Cal Poly Pomona version of Dumbledore’s Army is more connected to the books. The 50-member club is divided into the four houses from the series – Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Ravenclaw – with activities planned with the novels in mind.
The army also has formed a quidditch team, a fictional game Harry Potter and schoolmates played in the books.
“I wanted to change up a lot of things from the Dumbledore’s Army of high school,” Hee says. “I really wanted quidditch to be a big deal then, but it couldn’t be because we had to concentrate on service.”
Others universities, including UCLA, UC Irvine, Stanford and UC Berkeley, have quidditch teams that compete against one another. Hee wants Cal Poly Pomona to take on other colleges.
Hee says she grew up with Harry Potter and loved it since her dad read the books to her as a young girl. Fred Weasley is her favorite character and “Goblet of Fire” is the book she loves most. In the fourth grade, she dyed her hair red and went to a midnight showing of one of the films as Ron Weasley.
“I used to believe I was a wizard,” she says. “When I read it, I just get lost in it. There’s a magical aspect to it. Everybody wants to be a wizard.”