Hobart and William Smith Colleges selected Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric for their 2016 Common Read program.
Over the summer, all incoming students were required to read Citizen before arriving on campus for orientation at the end of August. The book has since inspired campus dialogue around issues of race and racism in first-year classrooms and at a variety of community events. These events have ranged from art exhibitions to a faculty panel comprised of professors from various disciplines leading a discussion on Rankine‘s work in the context of American citizenship.
Claudia Rankine will give a reading of Citizen at the Smith Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. Her reading will also include a discussion of her work, and will be preceded by a student art exhibition, “From Slave to Citizen,” which focuses on themes of resilience, oppression, and resistance. The exhibit will be on display in the Davis Gallery at Houghton House on Nov. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges’s Common Read program is designed to provide incoming students with a shared intellectual experience, and to ignite in-depth discussions that touch on a multitude of issues and perspectives. “A common read is a shared text that we expect all of our first-year students to engage in,” Solomé Rose, Interim Chief Diversity Officer, explained. “We felt that it was important to have a common point of reference, a common text for discussion, amongst the incoming class,” added Stephen Cope, Assistant Professor of English.
Citizen was ultimately selected as the Common Read because it delves into existing social issues and enables challenging discussions to be started. “[Citizen] is about issues of marginalization, and race, and racism,” explained Rose. “For our students of color, they’ve already been experiencing this before they get to HWS. I think that what this text does is signal to them that these issues matter . . . Let’s start with probably one of the most difficult conversations to have in this country; let’s talk about race, and let’s be empowered to be vulnerable in those moments.”
Citizen‘s appeal to Hobart and William Smith Colleges also stemmed from the book’s universality and ability to change pre-conceived notions of race relations in the United States. Matt Cragg ’17, a senior at Hobart College, described how reading Citizen in a Sociology course last year altered his views on racism in America: “After reading [Citizen] I can tell you, personally, I have a totally different perspective on the word “racism” and how I view it now . . . It has opened my eyes to . . . different perspectives. I wish I had the chance to read [it] as a freshmen coming in. I hope that everyone who reads it gets something out of it.”
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Citizen: An American Lyric • Graywolf Press • 160 pages