Geek Out

We hope our students enjoyed Spring Break last week! Don’t worry–we didn’t forget about our weekly post. Here’s a Monday surprise blog to make up for our brief hiatus.

By Sarah Baar

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.54.07 PMOne of my favorite parts about working in the English department at Hope College is hearing about all the super cool things that make you guys geek out.

As with many English departments, yes, we have tons of Harry Potter fans. And I get to spend countless hours discussing the books, characters, themes and present-day applications of the books and movies. Not to mention being the advisor for the Quidditch Club on campus and making my own wand.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.54.17 PMBut outside of sharing a general love of Harry Potter, I learn so much from our students and faculty. I hear students speak Welsh, passionately discuss the themes of Steven Universe, share poetry on LGBTQ+ issues and explain the merits of Kendrick Lamar. I chat with faculty about the connections between J. R. R. Tolkien and Rene Girard, the cleverness of John Donne, the best video editing sites and the idea of designing tattoos for chairs.

Everyday is a new opportunity to get to know fascinating people. Of course, some days I’m busy or distracted and I don’t take advantage of that chance. I let the moment pass, say hello and then turn back to my computer.

The moments that matter are when I stop, ask how a student is really doing or ask a faculty what research they’re working on. Those moments make my day. They help me see some of the amazing stories that surround us in the English department.

Students in New York City

Our students have some fantastic experiences, both on-campus and off. We’ll be featuring some current student stories as well as highlighting past adventures that showcase awesome student experiences. This month, here’s a throwback from 2012:

Students in New York City!

The English Department often has students off-campus in New York City. In Spring of 2012 we had three! We asked them three questions; here’s what they had to say.Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.22.20 AM

Leigh Clouse:

  1. What’s the best part about studying in NYC?

The best part about studying in NYC is the fact that there is so much to do here. I can go out every day and do something totally different. There are so many possibilities and it’s exciting to be a part of that.

  1. What’s the worst part about studying in NYC?

The worst part about studying in NYC is how much everything costs. I knew city life would be expensive, but the prices still leave me flabbergasted sometimes. You get used to it though.

  1. Classes here are different because…

Classes here are different because there really are no classes! We had seminars once a week for the first few weeks, but other than that we just have our internships. There’s definitely a different feel to working 40 hours a week though, which takes some getting used to. Yet, it’s a great break from studying and homework!

  1. Something I get to do in NYC that I wouldn’t do in Holland is…

Something I get to do in NYC that I can’t do in Holland is hop on a subway and travel to wherever I want to go. There’s always something happening in NYC, which is not always true of Holland.

  1. And, finally, New York is…

And, finally, New York is absolutely spectacular! I am in love with this city and its people. There’s a good chance I will be back here after graduation.

Alex Brennan:

  1. What’s the best part about studying in NYC?

There are so many opportunities and experiences I would have never come across living in Holland this semester. I have found cool bookstores, seen great musicals, ran into famous people, and met some of the coolest people I know.

  1. What’s the worst part about studying in NYC?

The adjustment from going to school and having class to working a 40 hour internship was really difficult. I had to prepare myself for that change. Normally, I like to take naps around 2pm or 3pm, but I sadly I can’t here.

  1. Classes here are different because…

Classes here are different because… they aren’t really classes. The first half of the semester we have seminars, where we explore the arts within New York. My seminar went to concerts and a poetry reading; we got to explore the culture of New York, which was an eye opening experience.

  1. Something I get to do in NYC that I wouldn’t do in Holland is…

there are so many opportunities to see people and shows that you would never see in Holland. I have pretty consistently seen a Broadway musical every other week and it is not that expensive with student rush tickets either.

  1. And, finally, New York is…

And, finally, New York is… a world of adventure. There is always something to do, it just needs finding.

Melody Hughes:

  1. What’s the best part about studying in NYC?

The subways. Everything is fantastically accessible. And subways don’t have to stop for traffic lights.

  1. What’s the worst part about studying in NYC?

The subways. Waiting forever for trains in the winter, sweating in warm weather, playing sardines with strangers, falling on strangers when the train lurches forward, and realizing the train you need doesn’t run at night are less than delightful.

  1. Classes here are different because…

I’m interning full time at a small book publishing company so it’s quite different than class. I feel more like a working adult than a student, minus the paycheck of course.

  1. Something I get to do in NYC that I wouldn’t do in Holland is…

Walk to Starbucks. There’s something like 144 of them in Manhattan. No matter where you are, you only have a block or so before you run into another one.

  1. And, finally, New York is…

The best of times and the worst of times. There’s homelessness, pollution, garbage, decay, wastefulness, addictions, and masses of people working dead-end jobs. But beauty lives here too. Artistic enthusiasm, pigeons, street performers, glimmering lights, parks, museums, food carts, piers, and the Statue of Liberty are all woven into the complex fabric of New York City.

Of Masks and Men: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Human Existence

By Ernest Cole

ErnestColeAs a student of English at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, I was attracted to the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. His rendering of the character Young Goodman Brown was compelling to me.

Of particular importance is Goodman Brown’s search for the truth, and his journey into the forest where he confronts the reality of human existence.

Growing up in the east end of Freetown in my native Sierra Leone, I was always fascinated by masquerades. As a young boy trying to make sense of masquerades, some representing different tribal, spiritual, and cultural affiliations, I always wondered about the identity of the person behind the mask. I would quietly question the necessity of the mask. In my young mind I would ponder on the fact that if the masquerade signifies community involvement and entertainment, why should the identity of the person be concealed?

It seemed to me that the mask offers the person behind it a tremendous place to hide because of the barrier it presents to the community to recognize the person, his motives, and the reason for his actions. Because of this tension between knowledge and ignorance, the masker is in a position of power from where he could not only manipulate but, more importantly, deceive members of the community who are ignorant of his identity.

As I now ruminate on these issues, I again recall Hawthorne’s character who, in his quest for the truth, ended up losing his sanity because he could not handle the reality of what he saw.

It seems to me that perhaps Hawthorne is using Goodman Brown to point out a particular truth about our lives, and I begin to suspect that there is a connection between truth and masking.  In my childhood days, I was troubled by the fact that the person behind the mask could clearly identity each and every member of the community and yet we could not identify him, except select members of his group. This sense of exclusion and secrecy bothered me, and so, I came to associate masks with suspicion and secrecy.

However, with time, I realized that perhaps I should reverse my focus on the significance of masks.

Rather than focusing on what the mask conceals, it may be more interesting to concentrate on what the mask reveals.

This struck me as a critical fact because after all aren’t we are all like masquerades? Don’t we all have different personas that we put on for different occasions? From the pious persona we put on in church on Sundays to the scholarly persona we display in front of our students during the week, aren’t we all masking?

Is this what life is about? Do we all put on masks and conceal our true identities behind them? If this is true then I wonder how my students perceive me. Is my identity that of the professor they see in class? Are they making a distinction between the persona of the professor and the persona I display with colleagues at Butch’s restaurant, for instance?

One may say that humanity is a combination of multiple personas. If this is true, is it ever possible to determine the true identity of people? Can we truly know one another? Our colleagues, our students, our kids, and our partners?

Perhaps this is not the essential question. Maybe, once again, I should shift my focus on masks and masquerades.  And so, as I grew older, I re-frame the question: is masking necessary? Is there any value to masking? For some of us interested in searching for the truth of existence, isn’t masking an impediment to the process? Can we ever know the truth in the face of multiple personas that mask character and conceal identity?

And so going back to Hawthorne’s short story, it strikes me that maybe there is value in masking after all. If we cannot handle the naked truth, that deception exists in many forms and that it is integral to human existence, then we, like Young Goodman Brown, do need masks. Can we handle what people really think of us? Do we really want to know what lies behind every friendly smile and greeting?

Now that I am in mid-life I have come to appreciate masking and masquerades. I have come to realize that in spite of the manipulation, it is good for my sanity. It shields me from the rude shock of knowing the truth. I have accepted it as my safety valve. I take solace in the fact that in the world of international politics, it is called diplomacy. However I wonder whether this make me a diplomat after all.


Welcome to the Hope College English Department’s inaugural blog post.

We’re excited to share stories from our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends! Our guest next week will be Dr. Ernest Cole, English faculty member and chair of the department.

Meet Dr. Cole, and come back next week to learn more!