For the summer of 2014, incoming students were asked to read The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Set on a Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, the novel is a coming-of-age story about a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. We hope that everyone who attended the Summer Reading discussions on August 18th enjoyed a stimulating conversation!
Composed of faculty, staff, and students, the book selection committee works to choose a book that meets the following criteria:
- Intellectually stimulating — stretch students’ minds, cause students to think about things they might not have before
- Enjoyable, engaging, relatively short, easy to read, up-to-date
- Reading that will provoke interesting discussion
- Appropriate for developmental level of incoming students
- Addresses a theme/topic that is applicable to students themselves (i.e., societal issues)
Because the books chosen often address societal issues, book selections usually spark some debate. During my first year, the committee assigned the book Covering: the Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. Two years later, I had the pleasure of co-leading a discussion on Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption. However, one of the most controversial books chosen was Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations. Selected for the 2002-2003 academic year, the choice inspired heavy backlash from students, alumni, and the general public as well as a lawsuit from individuals concerned about the University pushing Islam on its students.
Pre-printed postcards were distributed by the Family Policy Network (FPN), a Virginia-based, socially conservative Christian organization. The group, whose chairman, Terry Moffitt, earned his undergraduate degree from UNC-CH in 1981, opposed selection of Approaching the Qur’an for the Summer Reading Program. The FPN said that the suras selected for the book create a false impression of Islam, painting it as a peaceful religion. Moffitt and another leader of the FPN joined with three UNC freshmen in filing a federal lawsuit arguing that the book choice violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion. A federal judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction, ruling the University was not forcing students to read the book and was not violating the First Amendment. A federal appeals court panel upheld the lower court ruling. The chancellor’s office received more than 20,000 postcards from throughout the United States.
However, not everyone was opposed to the committee’s book selection. Students, alumni, and others wrote to Chancellor Moeser to express their support of the school’s decision. Many of these supporters applauded a choice that would lead to a greater understanding of other cultures and religions in the University. One student wrote a letter to Chancellor Moeser to assure him that she did not believe the school was attempting to convert its students to Islam. The student compared the situation to being asked to read about Hitler. “One does not believe reading about Hitler makes one a Nazi…”
To see all of the Carolina Summer Reading Program’s past choices, you may visit their website. To read more about controversial book choices, you may visit Wilson Library’s online exhibit, A Right to Speak and Hear: Academic Freedom and Free Expression at UNC.
We’d love to hear from students and alumni about your take on this year’s summer reading! Have you read any of the previous years’ books?