January 27, 2016 at 1:15pm
Dane Lisser

For Cori Grzenia, a Millikin University music education major from Lombard, Ill., the chance to visit London as part of a January immersion course was quite the eye-opening experience.

Grzenia, along with eight Millikin classmates, engaged in a global studies course during winter break that centered on J.K. Rowling's fantastical wizarding world of Harry Potter. The students spent six days in London and experienced "The Making of Harry Potter" while visiting Warner Bros. Studio – London. The students capped off their trip with a three-day visit to Orlando, Fla., to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a themed area spanning two theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida) at the Universal Orlando Resort.

But this course was more than a visit to Hogwarts castle; it was an opportunity to analyze Rowling's Harry Potter series. The class learned that the lens from which they viewed the world of Harry Potter was the lens of power and prejudice. The purpose of the course was to foster critical thinking about the ways in which power and prejudice have impacted people and communities throughout the world.

Harry Potter Immersion

"I had a moment of realizing just how many people's lives this franchise has touched," said Grzenia. "It surely touched mine, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to take this course and travel to Europe for the first time, see the studios where my favorite franchise was filmed, and live out my fantasies in Florida with plenty of like-minded people."

Dr. Ngozi Onuora, Millikin assistant professor of education, and Molly Berry, director of the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement, instructed the course.

"I've been wanting to teach this course for a long time," Dr. Onuora said. "Molly Berry and I had worked together on previous projects and we both have a passion for the Harry Potter series. I shared my ideas about the course with Molly and she was right on board."

Harry Potter Immersion

In March 2015, Onuora and Berry began brainstorming how a travel component could be integrated with the course. "The idea was not just talking about the books and connecting power and prejudice, but actually seeing the land that Harry Potter was imagined in, walking through the streets of London, and being immersed in the experienced," said Berry.

Dr. Onuora added, "When I first started conceptualizing a class on this subject a few years ago, I did not want it to feel that I was teaching only about the characters, but understanding the themes that could be pulled out of it. Power and prejudice were elements that came to the forefront."

What we wanted to do was a global studies class and move the students outside of their neighborhood, outside of what was happening in America, and look at power and prejudice and issues that were more global.

The class began meeting once a month starting in September 2015 to have discussions about the books and to draw connections with themes of power and prejudice. As part of their course studies, the students examined a current global issue of their choice and made a case for how its root cause was connected to power and prejudice.

Harry Potter Immersion"The heavy underlying current throughout the Harry Potter series is power, who has it and who doesn't," said Berry. "I think it is very easy to draw parallels to what is happening in our world today, who has the power, who's allowed to go forward based on who they are or what they have."

Dr. Onuora noted, "What we wanted to do was a global studies class and move the students outside of their neighborhood, outside of what was happening in America, and look at power and prejudice and issues that were more global. The key is making the connection from what's happening in the books to what's happening in the world."    

During their visit to Warner Bros. Studio, Cortez C'airra, a junior biology major from Alsip, Ill., said she "was able to feel the powerful energy of years of hard work and dedication throughout the building. Being able to see every single detail and piece of work put into the films was just the greatest experience."

Each student created a blog to share their views on how power and prejudice are portrayed in the Harry Potter series. The students also reflected on how the themes of power and prejudice affect them and what their responsibilities as democratic citizens in a global environment should be in similar situations in the real world.

"Taking the risk and going on the immersion taught me more about London's culture and America's culture than I could have ever learned from a text book," said Sattin Schreiner, a sophomore theatre major from Greenwood, Ind. "I learned and grew so much from this experience. This trip gave me a completely new outlook on aspects of our culture."