For the 2015-2016 academic year the UConn Reads Steering Committee selected “Race in America.”
The decision to choose a race related topic is especially interesting following race related incidents on the UConn Storrs campus during the 2014-2015 academic year.
Two highly publicized incidents at UConn’s now infamous “Spirit Rock” sparked a dialogue about racism on campus last year. The first occurred last fall, when members of Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) were accused of racism and harassment by the cultural sorority Alpha Kappa Kappa (AKK).
UConn President Susan Herbst responded in a letter to the Storrs community, “These events did not reflect the community we strive to be — one that is welcoming, civil, inclusive, and that celebrates the great achievements that can be realized through our diversity”.
Five months later, students painted over the black and white rock that read “Black Lives Matter,” leaving only, “Lives Matter.”
UConn student Julian Rose called the incident “an outrage,” in his April interview with the Hartford Courant.
“There are people that actively deny there’s an issue, there are people that simply don’t care and there are the people that realize there’s a problem and want to change it,” Rose said.
In a December letter, Vice President of Student affairs Michael Gilbert said he believes “it is important for our campus to seize upon the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful and honest dialogue on the significance of the issues presented to our campus and their local, national, and global relevance.”
UConn Reads Steering Committee would not say if their choice was a direct result of last year’s issues on campus. Their focus is on the United States as a whole.
“In trying to understand the contemporary moment, I find that I turn to literature, which is uniquely suited to reflect upon the complex terrain of race in America,” said director of the Institute of Asian American Studies and chair of the UConn Reads Steering Committee Cathy Schlund-Vials.
“The UConn Reads program was created to bring together the University community – from students, faculty, and staff to alumni and friends of UConn, as well as citizens of Connecticut – for a far-reaching and engaging dialogue centered on a book suggested by the community.”
Recent events in Texas, Baltimore, South Carolina, and Ferguson give students plenty to discuss. Students can submit nominations for the 2015-2016 UConn Reads selection online through August 1, 2015.
“The most recent events at UConn and in the rest of the US only highlight issues that people of color have been clamoring about for centuries,” Rose said earlier this week. “Due to social media and the ubiquity of cell phones, people are now able to syndicate real stories to the masses, which has provided our communities with a great deal of connectedness and therefore strength, in a common voice.”
Last year, UConn Reads selected “food” as its theme and The Omnivore’s Dilemma as the “book to read.” The selected book will be offered at the UConn Co-Op for a discounted price.