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Summer reading program aims to pique student interest

The reading discussion is a voluntary Week of Welcome event that aims to expose freshmen and transfer students to academic life at UNC.

“It allows students to be introduced to the academic expectations of Carolina,” said Alison Spannaus, associate director of the New Student and Carolina Parent Program.  “It’s about being an active learning member of the community here at Carolina.”

Attendance at the discussions has fluctuated during the 16 years of the program. It peaked in the early 2000s when the program was mandatory, but in 2002, a controversial book choice caused attendance to plunge. The chosen book, Michael Sells’ “Approaching the Qur’an,” d rew criticism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“It was a book trying to help Americans understand the Islamic religion,” said John McGowan, professor of English and comparative literature.  “But there was a huge outcry in the state of North Carolina about how we were indoctrinating people by making them read a book about the Qur’an.”

A lawsuit was filed against the school and the program was changed from mandatory to voluntary attendance.

“We have to count on the students being interested enough to want to have the experience,” McGowan said.

In an attempt to raise attendance rates, the Summer Reading Program has collaborated with Duke University, First-Year Seminars Program and the Department of Housing and Residential Education.

Resident advisors are expected to notify their residents about the session and co-facilitate it with faculty members.

“We’re building up our attendance,” Spannaus said. “We’re utilizing more social media, having discussions with freshmen through residence halls and we have an entire website dedicated to summer reading.”

Sophomore Lindsey Holbrook  said she didn’t attend the discussion last year because she didn’t know the details of the event.

“I didn’t really know much about the logistics of it and there was just so much other stuff to do on welcome week,” she said. “Going to the book discussion was kind of last on my list.”

While students might not be as enthusiastic about the sessions, administrators and faculty members are actively contributing.

Chancellor Carol Folt and Student Body President Andrew Powell  hosted a session, as did the provost dean and chair of the faculty senate among others.

“A lot of administrators love participating in the summer reading program because they’re not the ones who are in the classroom, so they like being able to meet the new students at Carolina,” Spannaus said.

“They actively want to do it, which is what is really great.”

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