Anatomy of a Crime

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CATEGORY: Academics
TYPE: Articles
RELATED PROGRAMS: English

Marcus Fleming’s Macalester education started in English professor Casey Jarrin’s classroom, and four years later, it ended there, too. When he first arrived, Fleming (Mankato, Minn.) enrolled in Jarrin’s first-year course that year, Literary Grotesques. Marcus and four of his Literary Grotesques classmates also spent their final semester in Jarrin’s senior seminar, Anatomy of a Crime.

Keith Armstrong ’12 calls Anatomy of a Crime “one of the fastest-paced three hour night classes” he encountered in college.

Unsurprisingly, when those seniors come to class on Wednesday nights, they know they’re part of a close-knit group. “A lot of us have gone through four years with Casey,” says Brittany Rubin ’12 (West Bloomfield, Mich.), who has had Jarrin as her academic advisor for seven of her eight semesters at Mac. “I met my best friend through one of her classes. There are six or seven of us who call ourselves Casey’s kids.”

Jarrin’s enthusiasm makes her courses stand out, her students say. “Casey is so excited about everything that we work on that she’s always leaning forward, about to fall,” Fleming says. "With her literally on the edge of her seat, it puts the students there too."

Keith Armstrong ’12 (Milwaukee, Wis.) calls Anatomy of a Crime “one of the fastest-paced three-hour night classes” he encountered in college. On the last Wednesday of the semester, within the first 30 minutes of class, the 16 students in the room have already viewed clips from Psycho, The Godfather, and Silence of the Lambs to compare the cinematography. Jarrin does lean forward as the class discusses the filmmakers’ choices in framing, lighting, music, and point of view. Often, Jarrin says, the topics connect to one of the student’s senior capstone projects: they’re researching everything from criminal justice to media portrayals of serial killers to the CSI effect in courtrooms.

“The class starts out with a provocation to lead us into discussion, usually some gruesome clip or an excerpt we haven’t read yet, to get us thinking like either criminals or detectives,” Fleming says. “We dissect crime scenes in a more objective way, instead of getting lost in the trauma. It is intense, and because it’s so intense, there’s always a lot to decipher.”

Syllabus topics include a blend of historical events, film,  and literary texts: the Kennedy assassination, Truman Capote’s novel In Cold Blood, the Charles Manson murders, and Abu Ghraib prison photos, just to name a few. The discussions show that those cultural products aren’t isolated moments in history—instead, they’re connected by intricate webs. Every case study, Jarrin says, allows the class to fully immerse itself in each particular cultural moment.

Jarrin had taught some of Anatomy of a Crime’s texts in lower-level courses, but she rarely pulls them all into one syllabus sequence because of the intense subject matter. She went into the class knowing she had a talented group, and the students surpassed her expectations. “They came in ready to tackle important but difficult work together,” Jarrin says. “It was special to have a room full of talented seniors, to have all of those minds thinking about those questions on a very high level. It was a dream class.”

PUBLISHED: 08/30/2012