“Just Mercy” is a memoir centered on the story of Walter McMillian, a black man whom Stevenson represented in court in the late 1980s. McMillian was on death row after he was convicted of murdering a white woman in Monroeville, Alabama.
“The thing that we started to highlight in our final selection was its address of the racial equality conversation that we’ve been having,” said student book committee member Isaiah Stackleather.
In order for a book to be selected, it must be unanimously supported by the committee of three faculty members, three staff members and three students.
Alison Spannaus, associate director of New Student & Carolina Parent Programs, said she finds this aspect of the selection process especially important because it ensures everyone’s opinion is heard.
“The book has support from every member of the committee,” Spannaus said.
The committee wanted a thought-provoking novel that touched on issues important at UNC and nationally.
Frank Baumgartner, chairman of the committee, said the novel was chosen because it encourages students to approach difficult issues such as racial disparities and problems within the criminal justice system through an enjoyable narrative format.
“It’s a story that we think every student will be able to engage with,” he said.
Another important factor for the selection process was whether the author of the selected book was available to come speak at UNC. Spannaus is currently working out details to bring Stevenson to campus.
“It makes a huge difference when you have that opportunity to hear from the source and ask questions,” Spannaus said. “Sometimes, it humanizes the book too.”
Spannaus said she is very excited to see Stevenson at UNC this fall. Her goal is to schedule Stevenson for the evening of August 17, after group discussions during the day.
Stackleather said he hopes every incoming freshman and transfer student not only reads “Just Mercy” but thinks about how it relates to their lives as students at UNC.
“What I really want students to get out of this is a contrast of experiences. Although UNC does have some racial diversity on campus, I think it is fair to say that it isn’t particularly pervasive,” Stackleather said.
“I think that we still have a long way to go in understanding how our upbringings are different from other people.”