NEWBERRY — They creep and crawl, hiss and slither, sometimes even yell and make you do chores. No matter the demographic or financial stability, at one point or another, we’ve all dealt with a monster in some form.
Over the past few years, Newberry College has implemented new courses, new majors and minors, and new experiences, and this semester has geared up to be no different.
Newberry College students, thanks in large part to Dr. Susan Epting, have had the opportunity to take an Inquiry English course on monsters.
Yes, the very thing that frightens the fragile minds of children — and some adults — has come to fruition on a college campus. The course covers topics from Harry Potter dealing with werewolves to Count Dracula.
Although it is easy to think of horrendous figures as a child when you imagine monsters, Epting, the course instructor, mentioned learning a great deal from her freshmen in their first assignment that painted a different picture.
The assignment was to describe what they thought a monster was.
“I know that for my students, fears of the future, school shootings, job security, health, and the well-being of their family and friends are indeed very real monsters,” Epting said.
To them, monsters are not figures but extensions of the emotion fear. Students are not naming the boogeyman or witches, but calling out other things that plague societies across the nation, she said.
In keeping with the context her students described as monsters, Epting studied war, violence and trauma in graduate school which helps relate to the “monsters” her students face today.
“I also studied European history, for which much of the historical context for the course derives,” she said.
Everything has a history whether fresh or old, she said, and monsters are no different.
“The history of monsters gets at many of the most fundamental aspects of our past,” Epting said. “By examining the historical context of people’s fears and concerns, we learn a lot about politics, economics, and society and students are able to learn these things without the traditional scaffolding of textbooks and memorization. Rather, students engage in critical thinking and focused inquiry.”
Stepping away from the textbooks, the students engaged in graveyard walks as part of their semester long project on cemetery culture and iconography.
What monsters are found are yet to be seen, but if freshman Corbin Sigmon has any true insight, the likelihood of zombies near the college’s campus can be scary. Sigmon confidently states: “I think zombies are real, they could be.”
Sigmon and good friend Chandler Boltin decided on taking the course together and are both excited to experience something unique as freshmen.
“Oh yeah, I’m big in mythology and folklore, and this course will help me in writing because it gives me the historical context as well as the modern interpretation,” Boltin said.
Epting said she really enjoys teaching freshman.
“I learn from my students in every course I teach, but my course on monsters is especially enlightening because of the subject matter’s relationship to popular culture,” she said. “My students keep me updated on the present and I help them tie the present to the past.”
In tying together different concepts like past and present, Epting sheds light on the subject’s role in society.
When you look at certain historical moments you find there is a monster tied to that period, from vampires to werewolves. One example is the Twilight Saga, which features werewolves and vampires living among and pretending to be humans.
Epting says her childhood fears were no more abnormal or different than any other child’s, but the course itself doesn’t focus on her fears nor the fears of her students.
Rather, it touches on why these monsters still exist today and what it means in relation to the lives and culture of others.
Make no mistake though, Epting keeps it fresh and interesting, even from the start of class. The first day students received their syllabus, the heading read: “There is still time to change your schedule. All hope abandon ye who enter here.”
Epting’s investment in making the course interesting for her students draws them in and makes them want to learn.
“I believe that the fears and concerns that monsters symbolize are based in reality and certainly looking back in a historical context, many believed that witches, vampires, and werewolves existed,” she said. “In this sense, we are no different from people in the past. Our fears are very much the same. It is only how those fears manifest that makes the difference.”
Gerald Evans is a student at Newberry College, studying journalism.