Las Vegas, N.M. – During the necessary social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, students of all ages are connecting with each other thanks to a free online Southwest Literature and Film class New Mexico Highlands University is offering to the community.
Students in the new class earn three college credits for the course, which filled to capacity quickly as the word got out on social media beginning March 19. The six-week course began March 30 and continues through May 8.
“Literature is a solace during times of trouble,” said Lauren Fath, one of the three Highlands Department of English professors who is teaching the online class. “This class allows people to connect across a wide range of experience and education levels. The fact that more than 50 percent of the class identified as community members shows its widespread appeal.”
Martha McCaffrey, 80, is a retired librarian and Highlands University alumna who lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico. She registered for the Southwest Literature and Film class.
“I needed something to stimulate my mind while staying at home and I know the Highlands professors will push me intellectually,” McCaffrey said. “I hope to gain further insight into the culture and history of Northern New Mexico.
“As a society, we’ve become obsessed with the coronavirus numbers and literature is something that helps fill a void. This class is such a great opportunity to maintain human contact, especially with people outside our usual circle. I’m most interested in interacting with students online and hearing their ideas because they are truly our future,” McCaffrey said.
The other Highlands Department of English professors teaching the class include Brandon Kempner and Juan Gallegos.
“Each of us brings different expertise to the class. I’m really excited to team teach this course with my two colleagues. Not only will the students learn from their expertise, but I will too,” Fath said.
McCaffrey said it was clear that Fath was determined that everyone in the class have books.
“Dr. Fath offered to drop books off at people’s doors if they lived in Las Vegas and met people at Lincoln Park in town on Friday with books and hand sanitizer wipes, keeping social distance. She also offered to mail books to people living outside the area,” McCaffrey said.
Fath said she was pleased with the number of students who took advantage of the free books.
“Even at a safe social distance, I was able to connect with the students, which I don’t often get to do when teaching online. The students were very enthusiastic about the class and grateful for the experience,” Fath said.
Southwest Literature and Film can be applied to core literature class requirements at Highlands. It is being offered online, asynchronously, so students read the novels and watch the films on their own time. They also complete assignments on their own time.
“We read works of Southwest literature, view the film adaptations of the books, and compare and contrast the films and books. When I was recording a video lecture, I had to consider that the class ranged from dual-credit high school students to community members well versed in literature and Southwest culture,” Fath said.
Fath said students enrolled in the class from throughout New Mexico and from as far away as Pennsylvania and Maine.