Almost everyone in our generation has been touched by the story of the Boy Who Lived in some way; he walked us through adolescence and into young adulthood and has sparked thousands of friendships worldwide. My childhood was similar: my dad read the first four books to my brother and me before I took over. Like the rest of the world, I was captivated by J.K. Rowling’s complex world of magic and adventure.
As Harry Potter was certainly a formative influence for me, perhaps it is no surprise I have found some of my closest college friends in a student organization dedicated to spreading the messages of Harry Potter — peace, love and friendship — to the student body of Oberlin. I’m talking of course about the Oberlin Harry Potter Alliance, or OHPA (oh-pah), for short. OHPA is a branch of the larger Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit organization that uses the principles of Harry Potter to help motivate youths to combat issues like illiteracy and equality.
Your first foray into college life is daunting. During my first year I made friends in different places and eventually I learned the not-so-concealed secret of what distinguishes an Obie from a student attending any other small, liberal arts college in the Midwest. The answer is, of course, passion. Everyone here is passionate about something, whether it be theater, neuroscience, or even their co-op (or all three). My first year I dabbled in this and that, yet never quite found my niche, my little corner of Oberlin with people whose passions matched mine.
One day just before winter break of my sophomore year, my friend dragged me to an OHPA meeting in North’s Starlight Lounge. I had heard about the organization through her and knew about their annual sleepover where they stayed up all night on their laptops watching movies and fangirling over TV shows; I was even following several of their Tumblrs already. During the meeting I was drawn in by the group’s enthusiasm, their hilarity, and the way they clearly cared deeply about one another. No surprise, I found myself back in Starlight for the next week’s meeting. And the next.
What’s great about OHPA is that we are a student organization — we plan and orchestrate events like our annual Harry Potter read-a-thon, and we bring fantastic bands like Harry and the Potters to campus, raising money for charities in the process. Yet behind the scenes we are also really great friends who enjoy each other’s company and indulge in our common passion: popular “nerd” culture.
Although Harry Potter is our foundation, the glue that holds us all together is that we are really fandom friends, meaning we come together based on our involvement in and appreciation of fandom. In OHPA I learned that there are people just like me: obsessive fans who have analytic conversations about the allegories in Harry Potter, then turn around in the next second and squeal over the homoerotic subtext in the newest Star Trek movie. In a society that looks down on childlike excitement over anything, OHPA taught me that it’s okay to be unapologetically enthusiastic about popular culture and that passion, no matter what form it takes, is good for you.
The little motley crew of OHPA has given me a strong sense of community and a group of people who love and support one another. We often end up indulging in our nerdiness together: we go to midnight premieres and spend way too much time sorting our favorite fictional characters into their appropriate Hogwarts houses.
OHPA is unique, sure. But as a group we are also very indicative of the Oberlin campus culture, which is all about finding what you’re passionate about and discovering that there are Obies who not only share that passion, but who encourage it.