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Less than a third of the freshman class participated in discussions of this year’s summer reading assignment. About 1,080 – or 28 percent – of the enrolled freshmen turned out Aug. 29 to talk about Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson, according to the Office of New Student and Carolina Parent Programs. Transfer student participation was lower, with 93 students – about 12 percent – taking part.
Participation in faculty-led discussion sessions is expected but not required of all new Carolina students as a part of the reading program. The program, which started in 1999, was mandatory for all new students until 2003. UNC officials made it voluntary three years ago, and they stressed the voluntary status during a public outcry over the choice of a book about Islam, Approaching the Qur’án: The Early Revelations.
“I do think that the numbers are down,” said Judy Deshotels, director of New Student and Carolina Parent Programs. This is the first year the office has kept comprehensive attendance records, but Deshotels said many discussion leaders have said they had fewer students show up this year than in the past.
Deshotels attributes the low participation in part to peer influence. She said many students may have read the book, but they meet older students on campus who tell them they don’t need to attend the discussions.
While not required, Deshotels said, the summer reading program serves students by “introducing them to the idea of critical thinking and diversity of opinions. It orients them to the academic life of campus,” she said.
Despite the fact that students no longer are required to complete the summer reading program, the New Students and Carolina Parent Programs office continues to promote it as vigorously as in the past. Deshotels said new students receive mailings about summer reading soon after they matriculate at UNC. They are reminded about the book and discussion questions in monthly e-mail messages as well as by handouts and speakers at C-TOPS orientation and Week of Welcome activities.