Roanoke College professor taught course on “The Seven Deadly Sins”

Dr. Bobbye Au decided retirement would have to wait so she could teach a course on sins and their impact on the mind.

"If you are looking for religious insight, you should look in a different place," Dr. Bobbye Au, a two-time retiree of Roanoke's English department, said regarding a course she taught for four years and one that ultimately made her rethink her decision to stop teaching. Au taught a theme-based freshman composition class, "The Seven Deadly Sins," which focused on how everyday sinful actions can become habits that are difficult to break. Au thought it was extremely important to teach this course because "college is a hiatus, and it is a great time to encourage self-reflection."

According to Au, the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride) are all interconnected and have the potential to destroy one from the inside out. Even though these sins can have religious implications, Au encouraged her students to look at the issues more personally than just by focusing on a higher power.

An early assignment students were introduced to occurred within the first few class meetings. Students were separated into seven groups-to represent each of the seven deadly sins-and asked to look for evidence in the media that their assigned sin was advertised in a positive light. A stand-out advertisement students researched was for a car company. The company introduced the seven deadly sins in their commercial and positively reinforced the sins as desirable and sexy.

"This is not new or ground-breaking stuff," Au said. "However, these themes can have an impact on students for the future."

Au also incorporated Dante's Inferno into the course material to illustrate how people often resort to hell by their own choices. Dante teaches readers that their everyday actions can cause lasting results, and that is something students, especially college students, need to learn before entering the real world, Au said.

"Students were very open to the course, and the evaluation responses were positive, "Au said.

More importantly, Au wanted to keep students interested throughout the entirety of the course. Her goal was to form cohesion between theme-based writing and contemporary literature. One paper students were assigned to write was to create their own version of hell, while still integrating the seven deadly sins into their adaptation.

"If students find the material interesting, the whole course will be interesting," Au said. "There was no need for students to write about something that they didn't like or care about."

Au, English Teaching Associate Deborah Selby and Associate Professor of English Dr. Virginia Stewart attended a conference in Jacksonville, Fla. in 2005 to discuss the importance of theme-based writing for freshman students. They presented a conference paper that described the impacts this type of writing has on an individual and what students can learn from it.

Au also was impacted by this course. She retired in May 2002, but decided just months after her retirement that teaching theme-based writing was appealing. After teaching 24 sections of "The Seven Deadly Sins" in just four years, Au decided to call it quits for good in May 2007.

"It was interesting to me to see the student's response during class," Au said. "These are issues students need to be concerned about in order to succeed in the future."