Berks students visit Salem to study witch trials

Students engaged in an interactive mock witch trial of Bridget Bishop.

Students engaged in an interactive mock witch trial of Bridget Bishop.

Credit: Penn State

READING, Pa. — Would you dare to visit Salem, Massachusetts on Friday the 13th in October? Penn State Berks students majoring in communication arts and sciences (CAS) and criminal justice did just that, taking to the streets of Salem to study the witch trials of 1692. The students were enrolled in three different courses: "Gender Roles in Communication" and "Gender Roles in Storytelling," both part of the CAS curriculum, and the criminal justice course "Courts and the Prosecution Process."

The 22 students on the trip learned about the history of the witch trials, gender and race as they relate to who was declared to be a “witch,” the construction of our public memory about the witch trials, and the processes surrounding the trials in some of our nation’s first courts. The students visited the Salem Witch Museum, participated in a “witch walk” through the city, visited the witch trial memorial and corresponding cemetery, and toured the city on a historical trolley tour. They also had an opportunity to engage in an interactive “trial” of Bridget Bishop, a victim of the witch trials. 

This is the third student trip to Salem that has been coordinated by Michele Ramsey, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and women’s studies. She notes that these kinds of trips are important to students for two primary reasons — the opportunity to engage course content outside of the classroom and the relationships students build with their classmates and faculty on such trips. 

“There is simply no substitute for immersing students in the actual contexts they are studying,” Ramsey noted, adding that such trips “encourage student retention and help students feel more connected to the college, which helps build a strong cohort of current students in our majors in the present and more engaged alumni in the future as well.” 

In addition to Ramsey, faculty members Cheryl Nicholas, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and global studies, and Jennifer Murphy, associate professor of criminal justice, accompanied the students. 

The field trip was made possible by the Mrs. Harold Mcl. Grout and Mrs. C. Glenn Kauffman Endowment for the Arts at Berks College. 

For additional information, contact Ramsey at 610-396-6148 or [email protected].