Devils fill the classroom on the first floor of Davidson — literally.
Assistant Professor of English Dr. Jessica Hooten’s freshman seminar class on C.S. Lewis dressed up in red and wore devil horns in honor of The Screwtape Letters.
In the book, Screwtape cautions his apprentice Wormwood to stay concealed. According to Hooten, Lewis knows that the devil’s biggest deception is trying to convince people of his nonexistence.
“Dressing up with horns — one of my students even had a fantastic tail — mocks the devil, acknowledges his existence, and reinforces Lewis’ warning about the nature of evil in the book,” she said.
Students also had to memorize a line of Lewis’, which was their reply when someone asked them about their outfit, sparking a conversation about Lewis.
Sophomore exercise and sport science major Tyler Carpenter was one of the horned students, going back to take this required course after taking another class with Hooten.
He believes her energy adds to the classes.
“(She) is excited to educate her students. She finds fun ways to conduct class and has great discussions,” Carpenter said.
Hooten chose to lead her freshman seminar class on The Screwtape Letters because of her belief in the power of literature.
“Reading should change people — hearts, minds, and bodies. You can only teach this truth to students through experience; no matter how often they hear it, they won’t believe it until they experience it,” she said.
Hooten said Lewis’ books allow for that experience.
“Lewis says in his biography Surprised by Joy that a young atheist cannot be too careful about what he reads. He knew that books could transform people. I think Lewis’s books transform us for the better,” she said.
Hooten loves how Screw-tape cannot understand God the “Enemy.”
“He snarls at the idea that God actually loves and values his creatures, that he is the creator of pleasure. Most of all, I love how Lewis revamps T.S. Eliot in the line, ‘For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity,’” she said.
She hopes to introduce students to the importance of reading.
“If we have a society of people who cannot read, we will have a citizenry that is easily controlled by the markets, media and government. We will have people who have chosen ignorance,” Hooten said.
Sophomore Spanish major Leighann Goodwin has taken other courses with Hooten and is currently in her American literature class. She attributes her excitement for learning to Hooten.
“(Her) passion and love for literature is what really stands out … her class has changed the way that I read and perceive a text. She has inspired me to pursue a career in English,” she said.
Goodwin acknowledges Hooten’s courses as difficult, but still recommends them.
“The classes are not easy, but that is the beauty of it. I believe that the easier the class, the less knowledge you will walk away with when all is said and done,” she said.
Goodwin said Hooten’s course has been an eye opener.
“(It) has made me realize what I want to do with my life. Her class has also made me enjoy my other classes and take them seriously,” she said.
Hooten enjoys the bonds she shares with her students.
“I do not believe that teaching is about pouring information into impersonal minds,” she said.
Hooten gets upset when students and professors don’t put in an effort
“It saddens me when students cannot remember the name of their professor or vice versa. I enjoy getting to know my students — what challenges they face in writing, which reading assignments they most enjoyed, how they overcame their struggle with time management, etc.” she said.
As a professor, she takes it personally when students don’t expect as much as she does from them.
“Throughout the semester I repeatedly tell them: ‘I have unlimited patience for those of you who want to learn and absolutely no patience for those of you who don’t,’” she said.
Outside of the classroom, Hooten is working with a colleague from Baylor University, Sarah-Jane Murray, on a nonprofit book publishing group called Thalia Books, a subsidiary of Shadowlands Media.
This past year she applied for two national grants, published three articles, received a fellowship to Princeton, is finishing a book manuscript and is directing the UMHB Writers’ Festival in the spring.
Her constant efforts and growth are important to her.
“I believe that the job of a professor should be to model life-long learning …. If I stop writing and reading outside of the classroom, what could I possibly bring to the classroom?” she said.
Hooten’s life however doesn’t revolve solely around work.
“I am in a job that allows me to do what I love — read, write, learn, think and teach. However, I also kick box, run half-marathons, practice Russian on my drive to work, cook gourmet meals and bake desserts for friends, assist with Kids’ Quest ministry at my church and go to the opera or Step Up 3 on weekends.”