Death, it is not always an easy topic for people to come to terms with, yet alone talk about with a room full of strangers every week for fifteen weeks. Who knew a class about death could have such a positive impact on so many people’s lives?
“This class has changed my life,” said Grace Campbell, who took the class last semester and had experienced ridicule throughout her life for being bi-racial. She stated that after witnessing the autopsy of a middle-aged man who died from an overdose and was cut open for examination in front of her, she realized that everybody is literally the same on the inside.
Death in Perspective professor Dr. Norma Bowe has gained international notoriety for the recently published book “The Death Class: a True Story About Life.”
The book that follows Bowe’s death class and focuses on several student’s in particular, has received rave reviews since it was released on Jan. 14 and turned Bowe into a local celebrity after being interviewed on MSNBC, PBS and NPR just to name a few, with a possible movie version of the book in the works.
After reading a Kean student newspaper article about Bowe’s Death in Perspective class LA Times journalist Erika Hayasaki contacted the professor and began sitting in on her classes. By September 2008 Hayasaki’s article on the class made the front page of the LA Times. Hayasaki continued to sit in on Bowe’s class for the next four years, with a tape recorder and notebook in hand, and ended up taking it herself before eventually writing the book.
“Watch out for this lady she walks around with a tape recorder at all times,” said Bowe at a discussion, Q&A and book signing event held on Jan. 23 in the University Center’s Little Theatre, “even in bathrooms.”
On the day of the event the theatre was packed with former Death in Perspective students from a wide variety of semesters of the 14 years Bowe has taught the class at Kean. Although the class was offered at Kean, as well as other universities, before Bowe began teaching it, she added elements of philosophy, health, religion and biology.
The most impactful addition to the class, according to her students, was definitely field trips. The field trips consisted of visits to funeral homes, cemetaries, hospices, prisons and the viewing of a live autopsy. When asked what her least favorite of all the trips Bowe replied that it was the autopsy because of all the coordinating needed as well as all the young people she has seen on the table. However, for many of her students the autopsy has been the most influential trip. Bowe cited the cemetery trip to be her favorite because it taught her students to no longer hold their breaths when they passed cemeteries.
“Cemeteries took on a whole new meaning for me after taking this class,” said Hayasaki who then stated that she has been meaning to revisit a cemetary simply to sit and write.
If you’d like to take Bowe’s Death in Perspective class for yourself there are no prerequisites but, you do need to be able to register on the first or possibly second day that registration opens because her classes always fill up quick.