[This post is part of my attempted practice this semester of writing a reflection on my teaching each week. This semester, CSUDH, like all the universities in the California State University system are primarily online. I am teaching a freshman seminar (synchronous) and an upper-division interdisciplinary studies course (asynchronous), both on reading Harry Potter and digital fandom. My motivation to do these blogging reflections came out of a summer workshop on supporting first-generation college students and its requirement that we reflect regularly on our teaching practices this semester.]
Today is the first day of #scholarstrike. I did teach my freshman Harry Potter course today, but it met at 8:30 AM, before the strike officially started, and we devoted the class to issues of race in the books and films, especially to the “what if” proposition of how their reading of the novels would have changed if, instead of Emma Watson, a Black actress had been cast as Hermione.
This was always going to be a difficult semester. The national and global situations are terrible and produce anxiety every day when I read the paper. My teaching is all online this term, as is almost all of the teaching in the CSU system. I’m teaching a course that’s all freshmen for the first time at CSUDH. And both of my classes are on Harry Potter.
That last one needs some explaining as I’ve taught Harry Potter before. However, this is the first class I’ve taught on the series since J.K. Rowling has started tweeting and writing anti-transgender social media posts. It’s hard because I don’t know that I would have proposed these courses if she’d written these things a year ago. I’m getting around it by highlighting the pushback from her fans. This isn’t a stretch of the content as both my freshman and upper-division courses are structured to focus on the Potterverse fandom and digital fan creations.
Harry Potter aside, the main reason this is a hard semester is that my own state right now is one of grief. Just before midnight on July 26, my mother died of pancreatic cancer after having exhausted every possible treatment for two and a half years. It was a hard and painful illness. Jesse Stommel reminded me on Twitter of bell hooks writing on embodiment in our classrooms, and how important that is in online spaces. I feel like right now I embody grief, that sometimes I am numb either with it or to it only to have it break out and wash over me. This is a season of grief.
I’ve tried to be as honest as I can with my students throughout my time in the classroom over the past ten years, but don’t want to burden my students with this pain. In this time of COVID, racial violence, and political uncertainty, I feel like they’re carrying too much of their own pain. Yet I can say my grief is affecting my reading of something as escapist as Harry Potter. In this time of stress, I want the class to be about pleasure — the pleasure one can take in a fandom especially, but I confess I’m not feeling pleasure very well right now.
All that said, I have tried to make the semester fun and personal. I want them to feel special and to have some fun. To that end, I sent each of my students a Hogwarts letter by snail mail, sealing each with a wax seal. It felt right for them to have something tangible in this all-digital semester.