Diversity Book Club opens up path for conversations

In an effort to spark new conversations, Steven Dunham, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, is working with Sophomore Lyette Darville and Junior Abigail Shaw to start the Diversity Book Club. So far this year, they, other students and faculty and staff have met to discuss the book “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah. It is a book that allows diverse topics to be brought up in a lighter fashion through humor, while still getting the point across.

Noah writes about his experience growing up during the Apartheid in South Africa and how living during that time with his mother and grandmother shaped him to be who he is now. 

“The book purposefully uses humor and satire to make a heavy topic more relatable and accessible to people who have never experienced it or maybe don’t understand it,” Shaw said.

The discussions usually start with what people read in the previous weeks, but are able to shift into topics discussing their own lives, mainly with diversity and discrimination. This can dive into all kinds of aspects that make someone diverse, institutional racism, how the concept of othering works or classifying people based on race and language. One topic brought up in the session on Sept. 20 also discussed how kids grow up making fun of each other based on physical characteristics, possibly rooted in racism. 

“The goal of the book club is a lot less about the book itself and more about how we can spark conversations about diversity: talking about diversity here on campus, what we see in our everyday lives and what we will see in the world, how to activate change and how to improve it,” Dunham said.

Diversity Book Club’s focus during this block offers an opportunity for members to see a new perspective and hear the stories of others that may have gone through similar or completely opposite experiences. To some in attendance, this means hearing from other members that grew up in another part of the United States or another country, resulting in various ideas of how racism worked. 

“It’s just more about paying attention to the things we are dealing with in our daily lives while also acknowledging what is going on in our peers’ lives,” Dunham said. “These conversations don’t always happen ­— having faculty and staff and students in the same room — we don’t necessarily always have those conversations with each other.”

When the group is done going through “Born a Crime,” they plan to choose the next book based on what they want to talk about next. As of right now, the number of books supplied is gauged based on the number of people Dunham thinks are or will be interested. 

Dunham also hopes to bring in speakers and watch movies that relate to topics that members want to discuss. 

“I love encouraging reading and reading for fun. But I think my main goal is to get people out of their comfort zone a little bit and maybe talk about topics that make them feel uncomfortable,” Dunham said.

Diversity Book Club is an adapted version of a class activity that Dunham led while getting his master’s degree. While student teaching in the classrooms at Lincoln Elementary in Hastings, he picked out books to read to the kids and talk about or celebrate diversity. This gave younger students an opportunity to learn about the same topics brought up in Diversity Book Club.

Currently, the book club hopes to meet two or three nights per block and read one book per block, but that is still being worked out based on how the first book goes.