The Chronicle of Higher Education

    Generation Hex

    By Sierra Millman
    The Chronicle of Higher Education
    Volume 53, Issue 46, Page A4
    Published July 16, 2007

    They grew up together, if in two different worlds, the boy wizard and a generation of college students. The darkest of Dark Arts, they say, couldn't keep them from diving into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the series, on July 21. Lucky for them, they won't need a "time-turner" to hold on to the magic.

    Universities across the country are adding Harry Potter to the curriculum in a variety of disciplines--English, philosophy, Latin, history, and science--and professors say courses fill up as quickly as Honeydukes on a Hogsmeade weekend. When Sara C. Boland-Taylor, 21, picked up next year's course schedule at Stephen F. Austin State University, she turned straight to philosophy. "I just saw 'H Potter,' and I completely flipped out," she says. "I called Dr. Anne [Collins Smith], and I left a message--I was like, I will be there and I will bring all my friends."

    Philip W. Nel, an associate professor of English at Kansas State University, began teaching "Harry Potter's Library" in 2002, advertising the course with fliers, "which now seems sort of quaint," he says. Edmund M. Kern, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University and author of the reader's guide The Wisdom of Harry Potter, says he could probably enroll more than 100 students in this fall's course, but unless he falls under the sway of an "imperius curse," he would like to preserve the university's small class size.

    For college-age fans, Harry Potter is the story of their generation. "I just felt really compelled by the fact that these characters were just exactly my age and they were kind of maturing at the same rate I was," says Ashley M. Rhodes-Courter, 21, a senior at Eckerd College.

    Declaring their love for Harry Potter sometimes means tackling someone wearing a cape. Students at a growing number of universities have pioneered earthbound versions of the wizard sport, quidditch. According to the rules at Middlebury College, where students have been playing since 2005, "All players must run carrying a broom between their legs at all times. If they ever do not have the broom between their legs, then they can't fly and obviously cannot participate."

    Alex R. Benepe, 20, a Middlebury junior and club co-founder, says he answers e-mail messages a couple of times each week from students at other colleges seeking advice on how to start their own clubs. While students at Marlboro College have been playing a no-contact version of the sport for four years, at Middlebury, quidditch can be a bit "bit rough," Mr. Benepe says. This year he plans to introduce some safety measures like goggles or broom-tip covers. Muggle eyes, alas, don't grow back easily.

    A summerlong quidditch tournament is part of a Potter "immersion learning" program at North Georgia College & State University, where students are at work on a comprehensive Harry Potter encyclopedia, which they hope to publish.

    Potter mania is gradually becoming more acceptable on campuses, and students say they're eager to help it along. "I did my fair share of recruiting," says Sudipta Bandyopadhyay, 20, a senior at Yale University, who's persuaded several friends to read the books.

    Students at Webster University created Potterheads Anonymous, a support group for the smitten. "Our T-shirts actually say, 'Come Out of the Broom Closet!'" says Angie M. Moritz, 21, a senior and the club's president. More than 100 signed up to do so at a 2005 student-activities fair, she says.

    Members of Central Michigan University's chapter of Dumbledore's Army began meeting regularly in November to discuss each book, contemplate the larger themes, and speculate on the series' conclusion. "I almost feel silly because I'm so attached to them, and I'm 22 years old," says Megan M. Kowalski, club founder and a recent graduate. "Harry has just made such an impression on me, and he's carried through into my adult life."

    Jeremy N. Warren, 22, who just graduated from Vassar College, remembers finding the first book under the Christmas tree. When it comes to the release of the last book, still tantalizingly out of reach, he speaks for his generation: "I'm gonna get it, and I'm gonna sit in my room, and I'm gonna read it, and I'm not gonna leave until it's done, which seems to be how people do it now."

    Copyright 2007 The Chronicle of Higher Education