Phi Beta Cons

Required Reading: Social Justice

Justice for people of color. Justice for illegal immigrants. These are two themes that have emerged this summer as popular topics for freshman reading programs at universities across the nation, Inside Higher Ed reports, noting the assignments come “in a year when presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has spouted anti-immigrant rhetoric and black men have died at the hands of the police.”

The plight of the illegal immigrant is told in book assignments such as: “Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot and the Battle for the American Dream,” “Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America” and “Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant.” The subject of “racial injustice” is handled with books such as “Citizen: An American Lyric,” “Americanah” and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” 

The reading assignments “should make them uncomfortable,” Patricia Maccorquodale, dean of the Honors College at the University of Arizona, told Inside Higher Ed. “It should get them to think outside their comfort zones and their own experiences. It should get them to think about privilege and how it’s produced structurally in society.”

This summer’s themes should not be surprising given the National Association of Scholars’ extensive report last year which found summer reading assignments for incoming college students are often overly political, ideological, and anti-intellectual. Selected books mainly focus on “racial oppression, environmental catastrophism and social activism” and ignore “classic fiction or nonfiction, good modern literature, or history.”

Speaking of “environmental catastrophism,” that’s another popular theme among reading lists this summer. The widely discredited “Silent Spring” is one such assignment. Another is “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” And food injustice is another big one this year, Inside Higher Ed reports, citing assignments such as “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” and “The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor.”


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