Topics classes allow students to study specific interests

Haunted America among topics class options for Spring 2020 registration

Written By Shannon Hartnett, Co-Opinions Editor

Class registration for the Spring 2020 semester has begun and for the second semester students can register for Haunted America, a topics class, taught by Professor Jessica McCort.

Topics classes allow for students to explore a specific area of study rather than something like an American Literature Survey course. Usually the instructor of a topics class is an expert on the material for the course, which allows more of an understanding on the subject.

Professor McCort is an Assistant Professor in the Literary Arts and Social Justices department and generally teaches literature and composition classes. McCort had the opportunity to design her own class resulting in Haunted America.

“I really focused it largely on spaces in the American landscape, so looking at the concept of the haunted house or the haunted forest and how those spaces became attached to cultural issues that were being debated at the time,” McCort said about the last time she taught the class. “Things like gender, race, class; those kind of heavy issues that culture tends to debate.” 

McCort also mentioned how she wants to direct the class this time. Stating that she is interested in ghosts and what they represent in particular texts and plans on adding more texts to the assigned readings. Last semester, McCort showed students movies such as “The Shinning” and read “The Haunting of Hill House.”

“It was fun and enlightening for me,” McCort said. “It’s something I studied a lot, in preparing to get my PhD I was really drawn to the American Gothic and Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickson, Faulkner, Toni Morison.”

Topics classes have an unfortunate way of filling up very quickly due to the creative ideas of the course. It can be frustrating for students who really want to take the course, especially for seniors.

“I have been keeping it [Haunted America] close on my radar, and I actually do have worries about being able to sign up,” Lorie Simonian, a senior English major, said. “I find it incredibly frustrating that topics classes fill up so quickly, because there is always a chance that you won’t get into any of the interesting courses you want to take. I am very interested in taking Haunted America next semester, but unfortunately I don’t think it will fit my schedule if I want to graduate on time.”

McCort understands the students frustrations, stating that she tries to offer them regularly so students have multiple opportunities to take them if they can’t take them the first time around. However, due to the course’s design of focusing on writing and improving communication skills, large class sizes would make the class less individualized for each student.

It is ideal for McCort to teach the classes she designs such as Haunted America or Feminist Fairy Tales, which are ongoing in the Fall 2019 semester.

“The topics courses, or the ones that we design kinda stay with us as teachers, partly because we have developed the expertise to teach them so they are usually what we have studied for our PHD or written about or have been researching,” McCort said.

For Brook Kazyak, a senior creative writing major, is currently enrolled in the Feminist Fairy Tales class, she first found the idea of this class to be ridiculous due to never having a course like this before, but now feels “surprised at how empowering it is” and ended up liking it more than she initially thought.

“These topic classes are pretty difficult in terms of critical thinking and analysis but I think I can handle it because the students and professors really help put things into perspectives,” Kazyak said. “If the topic is interesting then that’s a plus, too.”