Summer Reading Book for Incoming First Years

UNC chose How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? as this year's summer reading book for incoming first-years. In the book, author Moustafa Bayoumi explores the modern experience of young Arab- and Muslim-Americans. 

Bayoumi said he was inspired to write the book because he lived in New York City during the period of the 9/11 attacks and had a sense that the Arab-and Muslim-American communities were not represented in the mainstream media or public consciousness.   

 "So that there came a point, instead of being upset about it I should take on this responsibility and try to represent those stories myself,” Bayoumi said. "It became particularly important also because there was a rolling level of stereotyping and dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims. I thought, 'Maybe a work that I produced would be a counterweight.'" 

An eight-person committee panel selected Bayoumi’s book earlier this month. Suchi Mohanty, head of the R.B. House Undergraduate Library, said that she supports first-years reading the book because it promotes public discourse and considers the lives and experiences of fellow students.

“I won't speak on behalf of the rest of the selection committee — but what resonated with me about the book is that it focuses on the lives of young people living with the same issues that our own Carolina students are facing as they make way into the world — identity, relationships, and employment to name a few," Mohanty said. 

Katie DiCato, the coordinator for conduct for the Department of Housing and Residential Education and a member of the summer reading book selection committee, said the panel saw the book as a way for students to talk about various opinions and thoughts.

"Even though there might be dissension among your peers, we feel that some of the best learning and growth occurs when you meet someone who shares a viewpoint that doesn't match your own and that's what college is all about," DiCato said.  

Rita Balaban, an economics professor and chair of the Carolina reading selection committee, said the committee wanted a summer reading book that would give new perspectives and challenge their core thinking.

“Many of us are fortunate enough to work toward those goals without facing the obstacles that marginalized groups in our society face," Balaban said. "I hope that our students will read this book with an open mind and think about the challenges they would face if they were put in another person’s shoes.” 

DiCato said it's important for students to build communities by sharing, listening and reflecting starting on their first day of class. 

“The book touches on themes that are important to every college first-year, including navigating situations where you might feel isolated or alone," DiCato said. "A goal that we have at Carolina — and of the summer reading program discussion groups — is to bring folks together and (create) dialogue.”

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