Monday, July 3, 2017
Notes on University of Oregon's Common Reading Program
I was recently thinking and blogging about common reading programs, and naturally, the University of Oregon (UO) program came to mind.
Last year, the literary scholar Courtney Thorsson mentioned some of my ongoing work on Ta-Nehisi Coates to her colleagues at the University of Oregon. In turn, her colleagues invited me to lead a presentation about Between the World and Me. UO was preparing for their 2016-2017 common reading program featuring Coates's book, and they included me.
According to UO's common read website, the university's program began as an initiative in their Honors College in 2009, and was expanded in 2014, to include all first-year students. I was pleased to learn that an initiative once exclusive to honors students became accessible to all first-year students. Too often, the best practices and processes of honors programs at various universities remain confined to a select few. Thankfully, that wasn't the case at UO.
What's also noteworthy is the extensive body of supporting resources that they developed for their program. They created a page of reading resources related to the book, which included links under a range of subjects: "About the book," "History," "Literary Works Referenced by Coates," "Race and Identity," "Black at Oregon," and "Further Reading."
There's also a "Teaching Resource" page with various materials, including a teaching guide created by Sharon Kaplan, UO Common Reading Program Coordinator and a description of assignments and activities for teaching Coates's book provided by UO Composition Program Instructor and TEP Peer Mentor Avinnash Tiwari. The page also includes an Index of People and Index of Places, Concepts, and Things from Coates's book that I created with my graduate assistant Cynthia Campbell.
Those resources were created because UO's common reading program seeks to involve a range of faculty, staff, and students covering the book. The program is sponsored by the university's Division of Undergraduate Studies, Office of the President, the division of Equity and Inclusion, and the division of Student Life at the university. And the UO common reading program didn't stop there.
Others in the community stretched out, absorbing and re-presenting Coates's book. Notably, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the university produced a companion exhibit to the common reading -- a common seeing. The exhibit, entitled "Between the World and Me: African American Artists Respond to Ta-Nehisi Coates," was co-curated by co-curated by Jill Hartz, executive director of the museum, and Amelia Anderson, a graduate student in art history. In addition, UO's Design Library produced a display that showcased artists' books concerning "race, identity, privilege, capitalism, education, diaspora, and family - as lived, studied, observed, and expressed by a variety of artists."
As I've continued thinking about common reading programs and as the subject gained more attention with a recent article in The New York Times article, I thought it was worth reflecting on UO's program as one model to consider.
• Black books and recent selections for Common Reading programs