At Washington State University, 60 faculty from across the university are reading a shared book and engaging in group discussions surrounding equity and social justice that will impact their students and courses across the university.
Hosted by the WSU Teaching Academy, a university-wide organization of teaching experts, the group’s first official book club is examining Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation. The anthology features 36 authors’ non-fiction essays, short stories, and poems about class, socioeconomic, and racial inequalities across many regions of the U.S., including the Pacific Northwest cities of Boise, Portland, and Seattle.
The chosen book is also the 2021-22 common reading book, used in dozens of courses taken by first-year and other students across all disciplines. It is the 15th such book in as many years selected to stimulate academic discussions among faculty, students, and staff based on topics raised in the pages. The WSU Common Reading Program organizes expert lectures and events to add to the conversation, often in collaboration with partners. The program is in the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement in the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.
Book club as professional development
In spring, the Teaching Academy’s policy committee was looking for a stimulating group activity grounded in contemporary issues that could help advance teaching and learning. Members struck upon the idea of a book club, the long-popular American tradition in which participants network, explore issues, and advance their knowledge. It is estimated that five million Americans are in book clubs at any given time.
“We were delighted to find that the university’s common reading book selected for this year focuses on a topic of interest to the academy, so it was a perfect and immediate fit,” said Ashley Boyd, chair of the policy committee.
Boyd said her own research in the Dept. of English involves young adult literature and social justice, and she has organized book clubs made up of parents and students, and others for rural teachers. She said she finds “book clubs as a means to professional development for educators, a way to read and to learn together.”
Sharing common dialogue
She said, “This past spring, the Teaching Academy announced its new club, invited faculty to join, and bought digital or electronic copies for book club members. We have participants from several colleges, WSU Libraries, and Extension in the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Over summer, five academy members and I wrote a facilitation guide and planned for fall sessions.
“The book club is meeting three times virtually throughout this semester, and already the discussions and interactions among participants have been intense and fascinating. The facilitators ask questions such as, ‘Are there any particular stories, etc. that stood out to you or that you identified with, and if so, why? If not, why do you think that is?’ and ‘How did any of the stories affect your view of our students? How do you put that into action?’”
Boyd said, “People have shared personal stories and insights into equity and justice, and ideas about how the lessons can be applied in classrooms and in education planning for students.”
Continuing in spring
Joy Egbert, chair of the Teaching Academy, said, “The book club is a success. So much so that we are planning to have another for next fall. For those in the current group, the academy will ask if they have integrated any of the ideas to emerge from meetings into their teaching and how they have done so.
“We are also going to recommend to the academy that an ongoing committee be formed to manage future book clubs for the organization.”
Boyd said anyone with questions about the club or the process should reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.