First-Years Uncover the ‘Monsters in Our Midst’

By Purnell T. Cropper | October 28, 2011

By Michelle Tooker ’07,’10M

Are you afraid of what lurks in the dark? Students in the First-Year Seminar “Monsters in Our Midst” sure aren’t. They’re exploring human nature’s dark side, investigating the combination of disgust and desire that monsters elicit in each of us.

The brainchild of Adjunct Professors of English Antoinette Peters and Rhianon Visinsky, “Monsters in Our Midst” was born from shared interest and coincidence—the two both completed master’s projects about monsters and their influence on Victorian England.

“We both have had a long-time interest in monsters, and the fact that there has been a giant resurgence in recent years makes the course both relevant and exciting,” says Peters. “This is the best opportunity for us to share our mutual interest and help students see that there is more to monsters than they might expect.”

“Our topic also allows us to help the students see that learning can be really enjoyable. That they can learn about what interests them, but in new and deeper ways,” adds Visinsky.

While exploring how, throughout history, monsters have helped people to reinforce cultural, political and personal boundaries, students are building a learning community and discovering their own demons. A recent mask-making workshop gave participants an opportunity to bond outside the classroom while creating visual representations of their inner monsters. They also study films, literature and other media, to uncover how societies have used monsters as a means for expressing fears, anxieties and secret desires.

“I love the idea of monsters and being afraid because it helps me understand heroes and happiness,” says Marcous Marchese ’15. “The history of monsters and the origins of people’s perspectives are fascinating.”

Through the course, students—who come from various majors and backgrounds—bridge disciplines.

“We are constantly trying to look at each ‘monster’ from varying angles, and to critically analyze what they mean. When students who have an interest in science mix with those who are mostly interested in art, they get to exchange and expand their knowledge and viewpoints,” says Peters.

Students also gain insight into other cultures as they research the evolution of monsters and how these creatures are perceived around the world.

“As an International Studies major, its important to see that there is more then one way to look at something—not everything is the same in every culture,” says Brandon Courtney ’15. “This course relates to my major because it helps give me a view on how other cultures see their monsters, which may or may not be the same way we see a monster.”