‘Jack-O-Lit’ brings together students and faculty for carving contest

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Rachael Paul.

Students were invited Tuesday to BYOP – bring your own pumpkin – to Kogan Plaza, where they joined professors to carve their favorite literary scenes from works from “Beowulf” to “The Divine Comedy” into pumpkins.

“I’m sitting here with my beautiful pumpkin ready to carve, but I feel like I’m having writers block, but with a pumpkin carving,” one student, Sophia Lin, said, tapping her carving knife against the front of her pumpkin.

Students and faculty from the English department participate in the Jack-O-Lit pumpkin carving contest in Kogan Plaza Tuesday afternoon. Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Students and English professors came to the “Jack-O-Lit” pumpkin carving contest in Kogan Plaza on Tuesday afternoon. Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

“Jack-O-Lit” was the brainchild of English professor Jeffrey Cohen and the students of his Chaucer class, part of an effort to strengthen the sense of community in the English department.

After many of his students said they felt a slight disconnect in their relationships with faculty, Cohen asked his class what the department can do to make students feel “like they belong.”

“Class twice a week for 75 minutes, you don’t get to see the personal side, you just see the professional side, so it’s fun to just be with students and do things with them,” said Cohen, who is also the director of the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

Senior Magdalena Stuehrmann suggested carving pumpkins together.

“I was really happy because [pumpkin carving] is something that the anthropology department has been doing for awhile,” Stuehrmann said. “We have a party in the department, we carve pumpkins, and it’s a great way to get students and faculty involved doing something fun together.”

After Cohen posted his plans on Twitter, he was joined by Holly Dugan, the director of the Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program, Jonathan Hsy, an associate professor of English, and Robin Delaloye, the director of communications and outreach at Gelman Library.

Students from the GW Bardians, a group devoted to exploring Shakespearean resources in D.C., also teamed up with him, and the organization’s president, Katherine Bradshaw, scribbled “#JACK-O-LIT” in chalk around campus to promote the event.

By halfway through the festivities, the crowd around the pumpkin-carvers had doubled in size, and students walked from one station to the next, carving verses from Pearl Poet’s “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” into the pumpkins.

Judges from Gelman surveyed the creations and awarded book prizes for categories like best overall, funniest, most theatrical and best literary adaptation.

Pumpkin festivities aside, Cohen said he cared most about connecting students with their classmates and faculty.

“I feel like if any student gets the message that he or she is alone here, or that there is no one else looking out for them, then something went wrong,” Cohen said. “We want them to know how much we care about them, honestly.”

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