RECAST | Common Read for Fall 2020

Dear colleagues, 

From: Williamson, Elizabeth
Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2020 at 6:56 PM
Subject: Common Read for Fall 2020
To: All Faculty

I’m writing to let you know about the Common Read for Fall 2020. 

Jeannette Smith and I were asked to select a Common Read back in February, in combination with programming designed to help the campus prepare for the November presidential election. We asked faculty who are on the election committee for recommendations; we also considered a student proposal. Jeannette did some amazing legwork and managed to secure donor money associated with the Evergreen Student Civic Engagement Institute (ESCEI) to purchase books.  

Our decision-making process, like everything else, ground to a halt with the onset of the pandemic, and we’ve only recently landed on Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, a suggestion from Zoltán Grossman. Zoltán noted in a recent message to me that the book has gained increasing relevance in the current moment — in light of the devastating crises of the pandemic, racial injustices, and the repression of public unrest: “The book’s overall message promotes more hopeful and community-based ‘mutual aid’ responses to disasters. So the book is relevant not only to spring 2020, but also to summer 2020, and whatever comes next.” 

Eirik Steinhoff — who has graciously agreed to work on the Orientation Week (O-Week) Syllabus again — made the excellent point that it’s late in the game to be asking faculty to prepare to teach a book of this length. So we’ve come up with a proposal (approved by the Student and Academic Life leadership team) to detach the book seminar from the “convocation seminar” specified in the faculty CBA.  

Faculty will still be asked to facilitate O-Week seminars for new students. But the focus will be on the orientation essay and on welcoming students to Evergreen, rather than on getting a handle on a whole book. Eirik and I will organize a separate interdisciplinary panel, including small group writing workshops, to give students access points to the book. For students participating in ESCEI, there will be some additional book club type events, facilitated by student mentors. The whole menu of offerings is still under construction, so do send your good ideas and questions along. And please stay tuned for more details about O-Week, including the syllabus of required seminars and the schedule. 

Thanks for giving us as much COVID grace as you can while we seek to provide meaningful learning opportunities for our students under challenging conditions! 

 Elizabeth  — Elizabeth Williamson, Ph.D. (pronouns: she/her)
Dean of Faculty Hiring and Development

About the book

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster’s grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of what society could become-one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local. [excerpted from the authors website,]

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