ARUN RATH, HOST:
From NPR West it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath. Well, this was bound to happen. Zombies have invaded academia. It seems to happen whenever something in popular culture achieves critical mass. Professors start getting excited about what it all means. From the member station, KPBS, Beth Accomando reports on San Diego State's first zombies class.
BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: San Diego State wanted to combat student apathy so Professor Emily Hicks came up with a class that had irresistible pop cultural appeal.
EMILY HICKS: The name of the class is one word - zombies.
JEREMIAH WESSLING: When I saw this class being offered, I thought it was unbelievable and I just had to join to see what was going on.
ACCOMANDO: Jeremiah Wessling's response is the precisely what Hicks had hoped for.
HICKS: I teach in two different departments, English and comparative literature. This is coming through that department and Chicana/Chicano studies. And I have found myself able to bring many of my concerns into a class on zombies in a way that I've not been able to do another classes.
ACCOMANDO: This is the first time she's teaching a class on the undead. And she see's them as a means of bringing topics back to life. For instance, students that had grown bored with issues of racism and classism, or who felt singled out as examples because they were economically challenged, are now engaging in vigorous discussions on the topic.
HICKS: We're talking about blood and guts and all kinds of things that are sort of leveling. I've found that some students are tired of talking about multicultural issues in general in my other classes but not in the zombie class.
ACCOMANDO: That's because zombies, now at a peak of pop-culture appeal, are proving to be a surprisingly effective teaching tool - reanimating students in ways Hicks could not have imagined.
HICKS: I've fallen in love with the class because everything that we want as teachers for our students to do - which is to get engaged, to take notes, to prepare for classes in between classes. All of those things happen.
ACCOMANDO: San Diego State isn't the first institution to reap the rewards of the zombie invasion. The University of Baltimore was one of the first to offer zombie classes, back in 2010, and they continue to do so now. But student Jeremiah Wessling says people often roll their eyes when he says he's studying the undead.
WESSLING: Well what I really try to explain to them is that we're looking at different aspects of it - how it relates to social issues, such as slavery. How it relates to consumerism. How it relates to all of these different things. And then they start to be like, oh that's interesting.
CHRISTINA CHOVAN: It's a lot more than zombies. It's our fears, it's like who we are as people. It's how we define ourselves as human. It's how we define somebody as an other.
REPORTER: Students like Christina Chovan are proof that zombies are inspiring students to use their brains, says Professor Hicks.
HICKS: I've taught here 30 years and I've never had students so excited. They can't even figure out which of their many ideas to focus on. They have so many.
ACCOMANDO: On student wants to look at zombies through the lens of capitalism. Another wants to use a videogame to explore the notion of trans- human. Chovan wants to explore how we define ourselves as human.
CHOVAN: To question, I guess, what makes a person a person. Is everything such a binary opposition? Is there some kind of a gray area to where maybe we all are zombies in one way or another?
ACCOMANDO: The mantra of most zombies films is aim for the head. San Diego State took that to heart, aiming for the minds of their students - through the blood and gore of the zombie apocalypse. Be looking for Emily Hicks' class this fall because students are already lining up. For NPR News I'm Beth Accomando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.