Book talks allow wider reflection on racism, other issues
Budding discussion group SMC Reads goes online for Zoom reflections about "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, which also was focus of earlier Education event
Saint Michael’s English Professor Lorrie Smith joined Jacob Pelletier, assistant director of alumni engagement, on Thursday, November 19 to lead an online discussion of Angie Thomas’ book The Hate U Give for the book group SMC Reads — a relatively new initiative that includes participants from both the campus community and alumni or parents. The lively Zoom talk prompted reflection about systemic racism, poverty, and camaraderie within the Black community.
The event from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. began with an introduction from the facilitators, who thanked attendees for joining this discussion. Shortly after, they were split into two “breakout rooms” for 30-minute small group discussions, one each facilitated by Smith and Pelletier, respectively. After the first half-hour, the attendees and facilitators regathered for a larger group discussion, allowing the opportunity to share thoughts with the larger group. At the end, Pelletier provided the group with closing remarks and a prompt: “I wanted to close with a group reflection, as we talked about the different characters and societal perspectives shown throughout the media,” he said.
Thomas’ The Hate U Give is a young adult novel about a 16-year-old Black woman striving for balance between the poverty in her predominantly Black neighborhood, and the wealthy, white school she attends. During the Thursday online discussion, attendees provided insights on the novel that prompted personal reflection about racism and poverty in the Black community, resulting from systemic racism. While also recognizing the value of interpersonal relationships amongst the main characters, attendees left the discussion with a deeper understanding of current issues affecting the urban, Black community.
The November 19 event follows the Education Department’s Common Read panel that was the week prior, on Thursday, November 12. This panel featured: Margaret Bass, special assistant to the president for diversity and equity; Valerie Bang-Jensen, department chair/professor of education; Rebecca Haslam, assistant professor of education/curriculum & arts concentration coordinator; Kaitlyn Roukey ’20, 8th grade language arts teacher at Vergennes Union High School; and Christie Beveridge Howell, program manager, Champlain College Women’s and Gender Center.
During that discussion, panelists provided intellectual and reflective insights on character development, community, and current issues reflected in Thomas’ novel, paired with the integration of educating students about issues within the Black community resulting from systemic racism.
Panelists focused on the ways they’ve integrated this book, and others like it, in the classroom. “The context in which I taught The Hate U Give was very specific to the context of the College. I tried to give a predominant group of white students a perspective of what it’s like for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students, to live and breathe in an overwhelmingly white environment, and the questions and misgivings that students have about who they are and the places which they come,” Bass said.
Though not every panelist identifies as BIPOC nor experiences these issues firsthand, many panelists expressed their efforts to educate without speaking on behalf of a community they don’t identify with. “This isn’t my story. I’m not speaking for a community, but rather trying to educate without speaking for other people. Having a book is a great tool because it’s someone else’s reading. Starr Carter [a main character in The Hate U Give] was my co-teacher. Her experience helped me to tell the story without making it a story where the teacher knows everything, because there’s no way I ever will,” Howell stated.
At the end of last week’s discussion, the last 15 minutes were delegated to a Q&A session, facilitated by Professor Bang-Jensen, where attendees could submit questions into a designated chat box. After the session, panelists thanked attendees for joining them on Thursday evening.
The two discussions left attendees with knowledge about the presence and impact of systemic racism on the Black community, and what can be done to recognize it within the broader scope of America and prompt change.