Home Education Summer books for first-year students deal with social issues

Summer books for first-year students deal with social issues


While freshmen love summer vacations, many will also open books that their institutions have asked to read before classes begin. Summer reading assignments, known as regular books, vary from institution to institution, but they are all designed to stimulate discussion of current events when students arrive on campus.

This year, as in the last few years, many institutions choose books that address issues of social justice – especially racial inequality. At Siena College in New York, freshmen must read Colson Whitehead’s book Nickel boysa novel based on a true story of abuse in Dozier School for Boys in the Jim Crow Florida era.

Michel Liptak, a first-year professor at a seminar in Siena, said the faculty committee had chosen the book back in 2020 for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.

“We are very committed to choosing a text that addresses current issues,” Liptak said. “And so, given what was going on, especially in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement, we wanted to choose a book that deals with injustice and race. We narrowed it down to five titles, and Nickel boys was one of them. “

The 925 members of the new class will discuss the book in first-year seminars and, depending on the professor, will either write an essay or take a text quiz.

The college also plans to bring in Erin Kimmerl, a forensic anthropologist from the University of South Florida, to discuss her work on investigating the unidentified bodies of boys who attended Dozier School and went missing, said Britt Haas, another professor leading the first annual seminar. She said that all the teachers who teach the book are trying to make it relevant to the modern world, although they approach it differently.

“The usual thing is that this is the basis for discussion,” Haas said. “She’s very different, not just the assignment, but even the conversations we have in class. All of them, of course, concern issues of racial justice – how far we have come and how far we need to go in terms of maintaining the balance of racial justice. But all professors do different things with a book. ”

At Goucher College in Maryland, students must read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lax from Rebecca Sklot. Lax was an African-American whose cancer cells without her knowledge and permission became the source of human first-line cells that would be reproduced indefinitely for use in medical research.

Isabel Moreno-Lopez, vice-chancellor of the undergraduate program, said summer reading is the first component of a four-year study of each student’s race, strength and perspective, a key element of Gushe’s core curriculum. Although the college typically selects a book related to social justice for 300 first-year students to read, this year’s selection is unusual in that it crosses many disciplines, she said.

“Usually, books on social justice, race and power go into the humanities,” said Moreno-Lopez. “But this is a book that can be studied in the natural sciences, because it talks about medicine. At Goucher, we support this reading requirement in a variety of departments, and this book is perfect for that. ”

Moreno-Lopez said the book should spark ethical conversations in medicine because Lax cells were used to study cancer without her consent, as well as racism in medicine and medical research. The fact that Skloot is white could also lead to a debate about the imbalance between the number of white and black authors represented in the publishing industry, Moreno-Lopez said.

All first-year students will participate in a group discussion of the book in the early fall semester, which is designed to begin discussions about the book throughout the semester. If students do not participate in the group discussion, Moreno-Lopez said, she will look for them for a personal conversation about the text. Students must also write an essay and upload it online for their first year seminars.

At Seton Hall University in New Jersey, first-year students will be required to read Just mercy: a story of justice and redemption Brian Stevenson. The book tells the story of Stevenson’s founding of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law firm in Montgomery, Alabama, and the case of one of his first clients: Walter Macmillan, a young black man who was mistakenly sentenced to death for killing a young man. he did not kill the white woman.

«Just Mercy is an excellent and timely choice that meets our DEI mission and goals and inspires young people starting their careers, ”said Nancy Enright, director of the university’s core curriculum. “The themes of justice, mercy, overcoming racial bias, community and faith in relation to social justice are closely linked to these similar themes. Seton Hall University’s core curriculum is an approach to general education that encourages students to become thoughtful, caring, communicative and ethically responsible leaders with a commitment to service. ”

Said Kelly Shea, an associate professor of English and director of the writing center at Seton Hall Just Mercy was the clear choice of summer reading for the second year in a row. The book allows teachers to have group conversations, she said, and classes can also compare and contrast a book and a film released in 2019.

Approximately 1,500 freshmen will read a book for Seton Hall’s “University Life” course, a one-credit seminar designed to help them acclimatize to college life and build relationships with peers and faculty. In addition, Rev. Forrest Pritchett, Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Justice and Inclusion, is organizing a trip for faculty, students, staff and alumni to the Stevenson Equal Justice Initiative headquarters in Montgomery.

Smith College in Massachusetts requires freshmen to read an offer from one of their own colleges: A book of form and emptiness Ruth Ozeki, a graduate and professor of English language and literature. The novel is a growing-up story that focuses on mountains and other topics, allowing teachers to discuss consumerism, mental health, family dynamics, workplace stress, family choices, and more.

Jane Stangle, dean of first-year class, said Smith chose the book because it resonated with first-year assignments.

Although Smith does not require students to read a summer book, he strongly encourages them to do so. There are about 650 freshmen in the college, and Stangle estimates that about two-thirds of them will read Ozeki’s book. One obstacle may be the length of the book; at more than 550 pages, it’s much longer than previous year’s texts, and could be a challenge for students, Stangle noted.

“The book is the energy of quality writing,” Stangle said. “But we also want our students to read the book. In years past, we tend to shy away from what may seem scary, but the quality and intimacy of the writing is so assimilated that we felt it was worth the effort. ”

Other institutions, including University of California, Berkeley; Brin-Moor College in Pennsylvania; Spelman College in Georgia; and University of Binghamton New York does not require students to read a book during the summer, but they do recommend a book or selection of books for incoming students.

Binghamton, part of New York State University’s system, invites freshmen to read Weapons of Mathematical Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy from Katie O’Neill. Kelly Smith, assistant vice president for student achievement who oversees the university’s Common Read Experience program, said this year’s book was chosen because it focuses on issues of race and inequality.

“In [book selection] The committee also felt that the book had the advantage of addressing inequality more broadly than some of the other books reviewed this year, ”Smith said.

Smith said Binghamton professors would coordinate discussions among first-year students, numbering more than 3,000, during the first week of classes. The university also encourages all faculty to include the book in classroom discussions, she said.

Other summer books this year include:

  • The Cancer Journals Audrey Lord, appointed to the University of Moravia
  • I believe this: the personal philosophies of wonderful men and women, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, appointed to the University of Louisiana at Monroe
  • Clara and the sun Kazuo Ishigura, appointed to New York University
  • Junalushka: Oral stories of the Black Appalachian communityedited by Susan E. Keefe, appointed to Appalachian State University
  • They called us enemies George Takei, appointed at Bucknell University
  • Office of Historical Corrections Daniel Evans, appointed to St. Michael’s College
  • Dig AS King, appointed to SUNY Oswego

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