Summer Common Reading 2016


Intro text


Why a Common Reading?

Your transition to the Knox community will follow many paths. As a community of scholars, we value reading as one pathway. Conversation is also key. The Summer Common Reading is our first opportunity to do both of these things. All entering students are expected to read these materials prior to arriving on campus. As part of orientation, students, faculty, and staff will join in conversations about them. One reason for a summer reading is that it is something we can do in common no matter where we might be on the globe right now. A common reading experience gives us shared knowledge and shared vocabulary for the many conversations that will follow in and out of the classroom at Knox.

Reading as Active Learning

Another important reason for a common reading experience is the value we place on active and engaged learning. We know that every reader brings a different perspective to the act of reading. Your professors bring their perspectives to reading course materials, and you may be eager to hear their opinions and perspectives. College-level learning, however, requires that you develop confidence in your perspectives, that you understand them fully and that you develop skills in explaining them to others. The summer common readings are selected to invite your engagement with them. Where do you find a connection to the authors or characters in the readings? What do they mean to you? There are no quick or clear answers.

Why These Readings?

The Summer Common Reading is an ensemble of materials, rather than a single book or essay. This ensemble was created by a committee of faculty, staff, and students. As you will see, the readings address topics that are familiar to you as students heading off to college. The organizing theme for the ensemble of readings is the link between Journey and Story. Every journey, including your academic journey, tells a story. Our personal stories, like the journeys behind them, can be quite different from each other. As we come together to build a new community successfully, we need to think hard about the different stories we hear and consider the way that each of our journeys shapes and defines our identities.


[Back to top]


The Assignment

First, read these materials actively. What do we mean by that? You will work on this technique a great deal at Knox, but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Check out the "Active Reading Questions" farther down this page. These are a sample of the kinds of questions you might ask yourself as you engage the reading actively.
  • Keep your facts straight. As you read, identify what you don't know. Are there names or details you don't recognize? Are there unfamiliar vocabulary items? Look them up.
  • Remember that there are two important things you want to be aware of as you read: What is the author saying? What do I think about it?
  • Think first about what the author means to say. Take brief notes on the important points. Ask yourself whether you can summarize the author's main point in a sentence or two. Identify a key sentence or passage that you think expresses the author's most important ideas.
  • Then ask yourself what was important to you as you read. What was your reaction? Why did you identify the key sentences you did? Do you agree or disagree? Do you think you share the author's perspective or do you think you have a different one?
  • Perhaps most difficult is the question of why you had the reactions you did. Did you see an issue in a new way? Did the author persuade you? Did the author fail to persuade you? Can you identify elements of your perspective that led to your reaction? Could you explain to someone else what the author said and how you felt about it?

Second, after some active reading, please submit an answer to the Summer Common Reading Response Essay. You do not need to write a long essay, but it is important that you submit an answer before you arrive on campus for orientation.



[Back to top]


The Readings:

Please complete these readings and then submit an answer to the Summer Common Reading Response Essay.

"The Danger of a Single Story" 
Our first reading is not really a 'reading' at all. It is instead a TED talk by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who asks us to consider how powerful stories can be in shaping our understanding (or often misunderstanding) of others. She warns us to be wary of the power of a "single story."

"The Thing Around Your Neck" 
Now that you have heard what Adichie thinks about stories, it seems only fair that we let her tell one of her own. This short story follows the experiences of a Nigerian student pursuing a dream, like you, to go to college. A word of caution: Adichie's story includes non-graphic material of a sexual nature including a sexual molestation.

Fair Planet Dossier: "Escape" 
The next reading is not a single reading. It is instead a website that explores why people undertake journeys. At its core, the website asks us to reflect on the dramatic movement of people in the world today, the migrants who move in search of opportunity, and the refugees who are fleeing war, poverty, intolerance, and violence. There is a not a single story here but rather threads and strands of different stories. Read through this page as you would like. There are images, videos, charts, and other materials for you to explore.

"The Complexity of Identity: 'Who am I'?"
Finally, we know that our discussions of these materials will rely on a vocabulary of "identity," who do we think we are and how do we explain it to others. Some of these concepts may be familiar to you; others may not. This brief essay explains key concepts while also outlining why an understanding of identity is so important.


[Back to top]


Active Reading Questions:

These questions will help you read more actively. The questions could be part of our discussions once you get to campus. But you can discuss them with others, with family and friends before you leave home, with your new roommates and suitemates once you arrive on campus, and with your classmates in the weeks and months ahead. After all, everyone will have read the materials and experienced them according to their unique perspectives.

"The Danger of a Single Story"

  • Stories can be both powerful and dangerous. Why do you think stories are so powerful in shaping our understanding of the world?
  • What is the "danger of a single story" that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us about?
  • Have you fallen victim to this "danger" yourself? Be honest.

"The Thing Around Your Neck"

  • As an international student, the main character of the story has high hopes for her life in the U.S. Her experiences are more difficult than she anticipated. Why?
  • Her Uncle tells her, "The trick was to understand America, to know that America was give and take. You gave up a lot but gained a lot too." Do you think that is an accurate description of the U.S.? Do you think the narrator agrees with her Uncle's view?
  • What is your opinion of the boyfriend? Why does he befriend the narrator?
  • What is "the thing" around the narrator's neck? Why does it loosen when it does? Why does it tighten?
  • The author made a decision to write this story with the narrator in the second person, i.e. "you." What impact did that have on your reading of the story? Why do you think the author decided to write the story in this way?

Fair Planet Dossier: "Escape"

  • What are the various reasons that people seek to escape? As the authors ask, "What's the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker? How are they different from migrants?" What do you learn about the experiences of these different groups?
  • The Syrian refugee crisis has been a gut-wrenching part of our news in recent years. It is worth devoting some extra time to understanding this important problem. Section 02.02 provides a brief overview with an effective, short video that explains the causes. The "virtual reality" visit to a refugee camp in Jordan is also highly recommended. The U.S. has accepted very few Syrian refugees compared to other wealthy nations. Do you think we should accept more?
  • While humans have a great capacity for compassion for others, they can also make migrants and refugees feel isolated and unwelcome. Worse yet, for those who have never been forced to relocate, it can be common to hold refugees responsible for their own predicaments, the so-called "blame game." Do you see examples of the "blame game" at work?

"The Complexity of Identity: 'Who am I'?"

  • The author asks her students to engage in a simple exercise about identity. You can learn from doing it yourself. Complete the sentence, "I am____________." How many answers can you write down in 60 seconds?
  • Look over your list of items; some of them (maybe most of them) will place you in or identify you with a social group or category. As the author notes, our social identities can place us in "dominant" or "subordinate" social positions. What does she mean by this distinction?
  • As you look at your list, are there some identities that place you in dominant groups? Are there some that place you in a subordinate group? The author states that most people are likely to find themselves in some of each. Is that true for you too? 




[Back to top]


July 2016