Common Read Experience for first-year students to build community
'Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America' explores what it means to be an American
Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami (2020) has been selected for the 2021 Common Read Experience for first-year Binghamton University students. In this book, the award-winning Moroccan-born novelist Lalami explores what it means to be an American, by reflecting upon her own life story and immigration to the United States.
The Common Read Experience was piloted for new students in 2020 as a way to build foundational connections for students residing on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to dig deeply into issues of racial inequality, discriminatory policing and judicial practices that were brought into intense focus after the tragic death of George Floyd and the spirited protests that arose associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jointly supported by the divisions of Academic and Student Affairs, this year the experience has been expanded to create more points of connection for first-year students, said Kelli Smith, assistant vice president for student success and chair of the steering committee overseeing the Common Read Experience.
“A subcommittee of our steering committee, led by Nancy Um, professor of art history and associate dean of Harpur College, was charged with recommending a title for this year’s program,” Smith said. ”After considering almost 100 options, including many that were suggested by Binghamton University faculty, staff and students, the committee selected Conditional Citizens by Lalami, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
“In recommending this book, the subcommittee agreed that it speaks powerfully about structural inequality in the United States, including, but not limited to the dimensions of race, class, gender, religion and national origin,” Smith said. “It takes a fresh and unexplored angle on diversity by focusing on the question of ‘belonging,’ a concept that should resonate personally with many Binghamton students.”
Three major criteria guided the book selection: timeliness, relevance and importance. Another key determinant was readability and accessibility for a first-year student audience. “Our mandate was extremely challenging because our members had to choose from so many excellent options,” Smith said, adding that the University is grateful to have so many compelling recommendations.
Copies of Lalami’s book will be dispatched to every first-year student this summer so that they can read it before arriving on campus. The vast majority will receive a Binghamton-branded copy of the book, though international students will not receive their hard copy until they arrive on campus, so they will be granted access to the e-book this summer. Both hard copies and e-books will be made available for the campus community through the University Libraries.
“We have a sub-committee focused on integrating the book into UNIV 101, Writing, Scholars and other courses, but we strongly encourage all instructors of first-year students in all subjects to integrate the book into their 2021-22 courses should they have the desire,” Smith said. “We hope the campus can fully engage with this initiative in as many ways possible in a shared spirit of learning and inquiry while taking up pressing social issues of concern to the campus, the community and the world.”
Programming related to the book will be scheduled and announced over the coming months, along with a call for small group discussion volunteers who will be provided training by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Alumni will also be encouraged to participate, with more details coming from the Office of Alumni Engagement this summer.
For more information and updates about the Common Read Experience, visit the website.
For more information about the book and to listen to an excerpt read by Lalami, visit the Penguin/Random House website.