The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the 2009 First-Year Common Read at Mount Holyoke College

This year, all first-year students at Mount Holyoke College read Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.

Mount Holyoke’s First-Year Common Read program, which began in 2000, is one component of the college’s orientation program.  Incoming students receive a copy of the book over the summer along with registration and other ‘welcome’ materials.  During orientation in the fall, students come together to discuss the book with their new classmates and student orientation leaders.

The shared reading experience provides a starting point for the first of the many intellectual engagements that will take place both inside and outside the classrooms in four years at Mount Holyoke.

This year, other events surrounding the common read selection included a faculty panel for discussion of the book’s cultural, ethical, and spiritual themes, and a reading and talk given by the author, both open to the whole campus community. Students and faculty contributed their thoughts on a blog dedicated to the common read.

In keeping with the oral tradition of the Hmong people, Mount Holyoke’s Language Resource Center and Library, Information, and Technology Services created Fish Soup, an oral history project that gives first-year students the opportunity to explore and preserve their college’s cultural history.  Students are invited to, with a few guidelines, interview a peer, tell a story of their own, and, if they wish, contribute a recording to the Fish Soup archive.

The Fish Soup project is a unique way for students to gain deeper understanding of their own experiences, hear about their classmates’ backgrounds, and practice using the resources and equipment available in the college library.  Click here to learn more about the project, continuing in 2010.

In previous years, Mount Holyoke has adopted Nickel and Dimed and Field Notes from a Catastrophe for the First-Year Common Read program.  Click here to see lists of other schools that have used these Popular Picks for first-year reading!

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