Bryn Mawr Launches Summer-Reading Program, Aspiring Beyond Summer

Posted July 21st, 2011 at 2:10 pm.

Class Matters book coverIn early July, a copy of Class Matters, a collected series of New York Times stories that focus on aspects of socioeconomic class in the United States, was shipped to each student who will enroll at Bryn Mawr for the first time this fall. The shipment of these books, a gift from the College’s Alumnae Association, marks the launch of a new summer-reading program for entering students.

The College’s approach to the common-reading experience is experimental, explains Undergraduate Dean Michele Rasmussen, who will ask members of the campus community to suggest activities focused on the reading. What is clear is that the scope of the program is intended to reach beyond the standard model of summer-reading programs for entering students.

First, the College will encourage all members of the community to read the book, which is available in inexpensive paperback and electronic versions.

“This book is intended to be a catalyst for any number of interactions between faculty, students, and staff,” Rasmussen says.

Second, College-sponsored discussion of the reading will not be limited to Customs Week, the College’s orientation program for new students.

“We really envision the book being a point of discussion throughout the year,” Rasmussen says.

The selection of this year’s reading is associated with “Class Dismissed?” – a yearlong initiative of the College’s Diversity Leadership Group that aims to foster discussion about  ways in which class and class differences are experienced on campus.

Like the “Class Dismissed?” initiative, which funded several proposals for programming that were submitted by members of the campus community, the new reading program will rely on community members for inspiration.

Rasmussen plans to invite members of the faculty, staff, and student body to propose activities that engage students in the reading.

“For example, a faculty member might say, ‘I’d like to host a group of students for dinner at my home to discuss the book’ – and the Dean’s Office might provide a copy of the book and fund the dinner,” Rasmussen says. “Or someone might like to lead a group on a tour of murals in Philadelphia and talk about the impact that class has on the neighborhoods where the murals are located.”

Older students will also be invited to find ways to discuss the reading with members of the incoming class. “We’ll probably focus on our dorm leadership – customs people, hall advisers, community diversity assistants, and peer mentors. ”

“We’re hoping that people’s creativity will bring ideas to the table, and we can facilitate them. Since this program is new, we want to ‘test-drive’ multiple ways of using a common reading and see what works for this community. So we don’t want to be too prescriptive during this first year,” Rasmussen notes.

Rasmussen says that she is particularly interested in finding ways to involve the College’s substantial population of international students in discussion of the reading, which focuses on the impact of class in the United States.

“We have programs that connect international students with members of the faculty and staff,” Rasmussen notes. “Perhaps we can build on this already-existing structure to encourage interactions that explore class comparatively across cultures.”

Another aspect of the program Rasmussen hopes to develop more fully is participation by Bryn Mawr alumnae/i.

“The Alumnae Association funded the gift of a book to each incoming student,” Rasmussen points out, “and we’ll be looking for ways to incorporate alumnae/i into the discussion.”

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