written by Gaye Hill
For 21 years, first-year students at Meredith have gathered in small discussion groups to talk about a book they were asked to read over the summer. Guided by trained faculty and staff facilitators as well as student advisers, students talk about a shared reading and reflect on how its themes relate to their own lives.
This year, members of the incoming class of 2024 held their discussions virtually. They gathered via Zoom to share their impressions of Educated, a critically acclaimed memoir by Tara Westover. The memoir takes readers from the author’s difficult childhood to her doctoral education at Cambridge University. With numerous details about the author’s transition to college, the story is both compelling and relatable.
“The Summer Reading Program (SRP) helps freshmen build connections with peers who have read the book as well,” said Student Adviser Haley Height, ’22. “It can be intimidating trying to find talking points when you are meeting new people and with the Summer Reading Program, you already have something in common.”
Hight said she enjoyed reading the memoir in part because of its powerful message – one that has particular value for first-year students who are joining a new community at Meredith.
“Educating yourself about people with different backgrounds is the key to a healthy, happy, and inclusive community,” said Hight
Chrissie Bumgardner is co-coordinator of the program and co-director of Meredith’s First Year Experience. She said the virtual format didn’t seem to affect the quality of the discussions.
“Every facilitator I have heard from has had nothing but positive comments; several said this book was particularly easy to talk with students about even in a virtual format,” said Bumgardner. “It sounds like many students really enjoyed reading Educated.”
Facilitator Jennie Hayes, technology services coordinator, said her group was lively and engaged.
“It went so well! We spent the entire 50 minutes talking about the book,” said Hayes. “There wasn’t ever a silent moment and each woman had equal chances to talk.”
Research and Instruction Librarian Amanda Sullivan also served as a facilitator. She speculated that students could relate to the book even more because of the unusual circumstances surrounding their first semester of college.
“One student noted how she could relate to feeling so overwhelmed, and all agreed with her. The conversation flowed to being adaptable, asking others for help, and how they can do that on Meredith’s campus,” said Sullivan. “The students liked how strong Tara was and also how much compassion she showed to her family even though she was growing away from them.”
Bumgardner said she thinks the discussions were possibly even more important during COVID because it has been more challenging for first-year students to make connections and interact with others.
“Giving them a common reading experience to share and discuss with peers and faculty/staff helps facilitate new relationships as well as gives them an introduction to what it means to be part of a community that values learning and intellectual curiosity,” she said.
SRP participants also have the opportunity to hear directly from the author by joining a Facebook Live event on September 16, hosted by St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.
About Summer Reading
Meredith’s Summer Reading Program enhances the academic climate on campus by engaging incoming first-year students in a shared intellectual endeavor with the entire campus community, including students, faculty, staff, and alumnae. Previous summer reading selections include The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Callings, Dimestore, and A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School.