Many Students Leave First-Year Reading Unfinished

Conor Bergin | The PHOENIX“Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America” was the Class of 2021’s assigned reading prior to the start of the semester.

The first-year text, selected by a committee of campus faculty members including the university president and provost, is a highly recommended reading assignment distributed to first-year students before the fall semester begins.

This year’s selected text, “Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America,” by Wil Haygood, chronicles the five-day Senate hearings preceding the confirmation of the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, while diving into the hostile battle for civil rights in the United States. “Showdown” contains themes around social justice that are relevant to the current U.S. racial climate — turbulent after the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“The book is inherently relevant because we are where we are today because of where we come from in the past,” said English professor Sherrie Weller, a member of the committee that selected the text.

According to an unscientific online survey conducted by The Phoenix about the first-year text, 128 students out of 182 respondents polled said they thought the text was relevant to society today.

However, the relevant lessons in Haygood’s book may not have reached a large portion of the first-year class. The same survey showed a class divide on how much students read. More than 50 percent of the students polled said they only read some of the text, or none at all.

Blanca Vega | The PHOENIX

“A lot of people [I talked to] had not read it. Most people. There were a couple people who did and they gave my floor the summary,” said Wagme Ravindran, 18, a first-year finance major who did not read the text.

The online survey asked why students did not read the book. Twelve out of 48 respondents to the question claimed they did not read because the text was “boring” or “uninteresting,” the top response. Two other respondents cited the text’s difficulty and length. Described as “wicked hard to read” by first-year nursing major Lucia Smithson, 18, the text contains difficult, legal language and sits at a dense 355 pages.

Weller said that while committee members knew the text presented a challenge, the academic material was too valuable to pass on.

“It is a challenging book, we were aware of that, but it addressed issues that are not going to be resolved easily, but should be in the forefront of what we’re doing at the college level,” Weller said.

The first-year text is not applicable for a grade, which, according to the online survey, led many students to deem the assignment unnecessary. Nine out of 48 respondents claimed they did not read because the assignment was “unnecessary.” Students heard from Wil Haygood, who was the keynote speaker at convocation, and dispersed into discussion groups around the text afterward. There is also an essay contest for which the winner is awarded a full textbook scholarship for the spring semester. It appears these opportunities were not enough to convince all students the assignment was necessary.

“I thought, ‘Why waste my summer forcing myself to read this book that I don’t even like and I don’t even have to deal with it?’” Smithson said.

The lack of readership and importance to core classes have led some to call the first-year text a waste of resources.

“Many people, in my grade, at least, I know, felt like it was a waste of time and a waste of money to buy that many copies of a book for people to not read them and have them sit on a shelf,” 21-year-old junior Paul Witry, a political science major, said.

While the assignment doesn’t pertain to a grade, the mission of the first-year text is centered around acquainting students with the values of the university.

“The purpose is to engage students academically and intellectually as a precursor as their entrance into Loyola. It’s also to emphasize Loyola’s social justice mission and put a face on it in the form of a text, and then also the third part is to start building community,” Weller said.

Not all first-year students believed the text was a waste of time and according to the survey, about one third of the class completed the assignment. Sixty out of 182 respondents, the top response, said they read the entire text and 31 respondents said they read most of the text.

For students who want this learning experience, the opportunity is there. Some students said they found the summer assignment and the chance to listen to Haygood speak worthwhile.

“Along with outlining things that are happening in the past and also today’s society, it is sort of outlining the expectations for Loyola,” first-year Nathaniel Cousineau said. “It’s stating that this is a place where everyone is welcome and everyone can be themselves … And I wish I could’ve recorded that speech and listen to it again.”

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