Readings for Empowerment and Diversity (READ) was launched last year as part of PSU’s Tilford Group in cooperation with Pitt State’s Office of Diversity. READ gathers students, faculty and staff together to read and discuss books with social themes relevant to today’s world.
“Tilford did research to find a book with true issues we see in society,” said Jorge Leon, learning outreach librarian at Leonard H. Axe Library and associate professor. “We select a group of books based on diversity issues, multicultural issues, things that we see going on.”
READ has decided the book for this semester’s campus-wide reading program. “The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” by Thi Bui was chosen because of some of the timeliness of the issues it discusses. The book follows the author’s personal story as she and her family immigrate from war-torn Vietnam to the United States.
“It’s really relevant to issues today concerning immigration and immigration reform and just the topic that will be showcased throughout this year, this being an election year,” said Emely Flores, assistant director of Student Diversity Programs.
According to Leon, the book covers other important issues as well.
“It covers a lot of different themes,” Leon said. “…As a whole, the book covers a lot of things about family, intergenerational conflict, there is definitely the bigger story about the author… talking about how she learned about her parents, and her parents immigrating over from Vietnam. So, there is definitely a large emphasis on immigration but it’s also about her finding her identity with her family members.”
D’Andre Phillips, senior in math, was involved in the group last year when they read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi, and said the group provides an opportunity for those who attend to broaden their perspective on social issues.
“It’s really to talk more about race relations and social justice issues… and provide an opportunity for people who don’t come from the same culture or have the same experiences and perspective to get a shared understanding by reading a book together and learning something new,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he looks forward to reading the new book this semester, as he will be able to learn about a topic that he has not experienced.
“This book deals with an issue that… I have not personally experienced, which is immigration social justice issues,” Phillips said. “So, to learn more about that, and like I said earlier, gain a new perspective of how it feels… and hopefully myself and others will be able to empathize more and get a shared understanding.”
Coordinators of the Tilford Group will meet to discuss the details for the start date of the program as well as the format of the meetings, which will take place over Zoom. Flores hopes to format the program as a sort of book club, so there is more time for reflection as people read it.
“I think if we read it as a chunk, it will be better than to do it all at once because we’ll be able to break it down a little bit better and be more efficient about our thoughts and reflect on our thoughts a little bit better..,” Flores said.
Those interested in joining the program can find more information on the Tilford Group’s page on the Pitt State website, where they can sign up, discuss times that work for them, and even sign up to have a book gifted to them.
Both Flores and Leon hope that the illustration in the book will help the readers form a stronger connection with the story.
“So, we can read about the experience of a family so that we can put ourselves in their shoes,” Flores said. “So that when we’re reading a book.., we become invested in the story of the characters that we’re reading. You get to see how this artist/author portrays facial expressions that we react to facial expressions, so I think people should read this book because it will be transformational for them in the way that they look at immigration differently, if they don’t already, and be more empathetic towards people who go through that.”
Leon said he thinks the illustration will help people understand the novel better as well.
“The graphic novel as well is beautifully illustrated, and I think so many of us are both visual learners and auditory learners, so we learn in so many different styles, so we can hear the story that the author is telling us, but we can also see it,” Leon said.
Flores hopes that through the program, those who participate will become more empathetic.
“So, reading a book with a group of people will promote… transformation because it takes time to read through something and it will be more reflective,” Flores said. “The goal is to be more empathetic, it’s kind of like a life skill, and to be more well-rounded individuals…”