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Dr. Reid brings love of sci-fi into classroom

By Jared Iorio
On October 29, 2009

A quick look inside Professor of English Dr. Robin Anne Reid's office in the Hall of Languages reveals a multitude of small science fiction and fantasy figurines, a large cardboard stand-up of the wizard Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and many small rocks and gemstones. These collections are no accident.

"I have been a science fiction fan since I was a little kid," Reid said. "My father was a geologist, so in the 50s and 60s, he was subscribing to all the science fiction magazines, and I came along and was reading along with him."

Reid's father's interest in space was not limited to fiction. He followed the U.S. space program in the 1960s with great interest as well, which he tried to pass along to his daughter.

"I can remember getting dragged out in the middle of the night to see the moon landing," Reid said. "That's when the space program was really exciting."

Reid's love of science fiction followed her to college, where she noticed that everyone did not share her views of the genre.

"It struck me very clearly that there was this attitude in literature departments in the '70s that science fiction was trashy and not worth reading," Reid said.

After receiving her doctorate from the University of Washington in 1992, one of Reid's goals in academia was to bring science fiction into the classroom.

"I occasionally laugh and say I got a PhD just so I can be a professor of English and teach science fiction," Reid said. "When I first came to the department I taught some other stuff and didn't have time to try and bring [in] the science fiction class. But you don't have to teach science fiction only in a science fiction class. From early on I was sneaking science fiction into composition classes, not as a literature course, but with the idea that the books complemented very well arguments that are made in our culture."

As time went on, Reid was able to incorporate more and more science fiction and fantasy into the classes she taught, to the point she is now teaching a graduate-level science fiction literature class and is organizing a science fiction group on campus in conjunction with Dr. Tracy Henley of the psychology department.

"[It's] called Sigma Phi Phi, although the shorthand is 'Syphers'," Reid said. "Anybody in the community who is interested in any aspect, any element of the fantastic in any media is welcome."

The group is in the process of organizing gaming nights, where members play several science fiction and fantasy games including Magic: the Gathering, and is also working with Dennis Koch, director of residence life, to potentially bring a science fiction convention to the campus. Student reaction to the group has been very positive.

"We had 30 people show up for an organizational meeting," Reid said. "Everyone there [was saying] 'Oh, you like science fiction? I like it too! Let's talk!'"

The organization has also set up discussion groups for science fiction books and television programs. Syphers also has their own Second Life group. Reid is not surprised the turnout for the initial events has been high, as public perception of science fiction has changed in the last few years.

"Science fiction in the form of TV and media is a mass phenomena," Reid said. "People don't even think of it as science fiction, they just think of seeing a movie with Will Smith. It's no longer stigmatized."

For Reid, the ability to teach something she is so passionate about is really a dream come true.

"My mother still thinks that somehow I'm cheating," Reid said.

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