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‘Born a Crime’ Selected as First Book for New Syracuse Reads Program
Peer facilitators sought to engage new students in book discussions
Beginning in the fall semester, new students will participate in a shared academic experience to explore together themes of diversity, inclusion and belonging—and what it means to come together as a community to share those ideals.
The University is launching the Syracuse Reads Program, a shared reading program coordinated by the Provost’s Office for all first-year and transfer students. The book selected for the 2018-19 academic year is “Born a Crime,” a memoir by Trevor Noah, South African comedian and host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
The University will provide a copy of the book to all first-year and transfer students before they arrive on campus for the start of their academic careers. The students will then discuss the book and work on a common assignment in first-year writing courses in the College of Arts and Sciences, and also have further conversations surrounding the book in peer-led discussion groups.
In the book, Noah, who was born in South Africa to a black South African mother and a white European father, recounts his childhood growing up during the last days of apartheid and the opportunities and adventures with his mother in the period that followed.
“Not only is Trevor Noah the most successful comedian in South African history, but ‘Born a Crime’ is a groundbreaking text that will prove to be informative, formative and deeply transformative,” says Dean of Hendricks Chapel Brian E. Konkol, an organizer of the program. “Our students will learn a bit more of who Trevor is, and, as a result, they will receive the confidence and freedom to be more fully who they are, not only as students, but as global citizens.”
The new program, which reinstitutes a prior shared reading program for new students, focuses on the University’s continuing commitment to diversity and inclusion. The program developed from a recommendation by the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion (CWDI), which sought to add to the new student orientation experience and deepen understandings and forge relationships across racial, ethnic, religious and other lines.
“The Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion believed that the selection of a single book would be an important sign to our new students about Syracuse University’s academic expectations and the importance and value of intercultural competencies,” says Special Assistant to the Chancellor Barry L. Wells, former CWDI co-chair and co-chair of the Universitywide Council on Diversity and Inclusion. “Effective shared reading programs that are supported by co-curricular options can be valuable in community building, establishing community expectations, and providing a common intellectual experience around specific learning objectives. In addition, research indicates that shared reading programs supports two fundamental theoretical principles of student persistence and learning, which are social integration and active involvement for first-year students.”
A special component of the program will be peer-led discussion groups to enhance students’ understanding of the book and engage them in broader contexts about equity and opportunity. Student peer facilitators will not only serve as key facilitators of the book’s content, but also serve as connecting points for new students to Syracuse University.
The peer facilitators will be paid a stipend, participate in a retreat focused on diversity and inclusion, and lead four group discussions with first-year and transfer students during the 2018-19 academic year.
Students can apply to be a peer facilitator, or they can be nominated by faculty, staff or another student. To apply to become a peer facilitator, click here. To nominate someone, visit here. Applications must be submitted by noon on Wednesday, April 18.
For more information about becoming a peer facilitator contact Kal Srinivas, director for retention in the Office of the Associate Provost, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Terra Peckskamp, director of the Office of Residence Life, at email@example.com.
Organizers say the smaller peer-led discussion groups will enable new students and their peer facilitators to engage more fully with the diverse community that is Syracuse University and gain a better understanding of themselves.
“The opportunity to engage with Trevor Noah’s text will prove to be an incredible learning experience. In following his career, I have come to perceive him as a brilliant comedian and television host, yet also one who is also thoughtful, observant and empathetic,” Konkol says. “Through his storytelling and candid commentary, we witness a level-headed leader, forged by remarkable and shocking life incidents, who is quietly determined and who knows where home and the heart most fully lie. I can think of no better educational gift than providing our students with the opportunity to experience such a person and consider how they, too, can grow into the most authentic version of themselves.”
The new program is being launched by members of a coordinating committee, under the direction of Provost Faculty Fellow Rochelle Ford. Members include representatives from the offices of the Provost, Residence Life, Off Campus and Commuter Services, and First-Year and Transfer Programs working together with the College of Arts and Sciences, Hendricks Chapel, the Humanities Center and the University Lectures series.
“The Syracuse Reads Program aims to provide a common experience to enhance our understanding of diversity and unifying the campus to make us more inclusive,” Ford says. “Additionally, reading the book, participating in peer discussion groups, completing related course assignments and attending the University’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner should help students speak truth to power, articulate their identity and heritage, understand and appreciate differences within our communities, and communicate interculturally.”
To join in the experience of the Syracuse Reads Program, other members of the Syracuse University community—faculty, staff and students—and the City of Syracuse community will also be encouraged to read Noah’s memoir.
About Syracuse University
Syracuse University is a private, international research university with distinctive academics, diversely unique offerings and an undeniable spirit. Located in the geographic heart of New York State, with a global footprint, and nearly 150 years of history, Syracuse University offers a quintessential college experience. The scope of Syracuse University is a testament to its strengths: a pioneering history dating back to 1870; a choice of more than 200 majors and 100 minors offered through 13 schools and colleges; nearly 15,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students; more than a quarter of a million alumni in 160 countries; and a student population from all 50 U.S. states and 123 countries. For more information, please visit www.syracuse.edu.