First-year reading chosen with focus on self-discovery and identity

Caroline Kehrli, Contributing Writer

This year’s required reading for the class of 2020 tackles racial identity in America, speaking to diversity and greater campus inclusion.  Mat Johnson’s “Loving Day” was named as the first-year common reading selection in an email blast from Provost Barbara Altmann last month. Johnson’s book, published just last June, has already been named a New York Times Notable Book and one of the Best Books of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and NPR.

Topics of race and racism have always been important, and they have become particularly pertinent across the country and on many college campuses in the past few years. With that in mind, Provost Altmann asked that I focus the search for the Class of 2020’s book in this subject area in order to begin the conversation early with our newest community member,” Beth Bouchard, Director of New Student Orientation & Student Leadership Programs, said.  

Bouchard hopes that the complex discussions about the book during orientation will help first-year students begin to understand what it means to be a member of the University. 

This is a book about racial identity, and it’s also a book about discovering who you are in the context of relationships. My hope is that the incoming first-year class will both enjoy and struggle with it, and that they will come to campus in August ready to engage with the rest of the community,” Bouchard said.

Not only will the incoming  first-years be required to read “Loving Day,” they will also be expected to write an essay in response to a prompt crafted in partnership with the Writing Across the Curriculum Council, which oversees the University’s writing program.

By asking students to write an essay about the book, we aim to accomplish a few goals. Writing an essay helps prepare students for spirited discussion about the book, which happens during Orientation. Discussion leaders can access the essays before the group meets to get a sense of students’ ideas about the book—the questions and insights they raise—and use them to help guide discussion,” Deirdre O’Connor,  Writing & Teaching Consultant and Director of the Writing Center, said.

The Writing Across the Curriculum Council hopes that such an essay will help students truly engage in their thinking about the book and the underlying themes that have such an impact on the University community.   

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