Freshmen and transfer students set to enter Carolina this fall are being asked to read How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? — a 2008 book that introduces readers to young men and women who are navigating college and family and finding purpose as they face stereotypes or clichés tied to their ethnicities.
An eight-person panel of faculty, staff and students selected critically acclaimed author Moustafa Bayoumi’s book for the Carolina Summer Reading Program. The new students are encouraged to participate in group discussions of the book during the week before fall classes begin, and Bayoumi is scheduled to be on campus to give a lecture about the book at 6 p.m. on Sept. 6 in Memorial Hall.
The book explores deeper discussions of identity and a concept of otherness in an account of how young Arab- and Muslim-Americans are forging their paths in modern America. Rita Balaban, senior lecturer of economics and chair of the committee, said this book uses the portraits of young adults to humanize familiar themes that incoming students can relate to, “leading to thought-provoking discussions as it increases our awareness of our fellow neighbor’s struggle to just be.”
“This book justifiably rose to the top of the list because of the light it shines on ethnic differences and how people are treated,” Balaban said. “One cannot help but wonder: ‘Could this happen to me?’ Bayoumi points out in the preface that the issues facing young Arab-Americans post-9/11 are not new and [how], at many points in America’s history, various other groups have faced similar situations.” While most of this year’s incoming students were toddlers on Sept. 11, 2001, Bayoumi noted, they live in a society greatly affected by that day.
The reading program, now in its 19th year, aims to stimulate critical thinking outside the classroom and give new students a shared experience. Students are encouraged to come to their own conclusions about the book; the discussion groups are designed to be an academic icebreaker.
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? is available at the Bull’s Head Bookshop in UNC Student Stores at a discounted price.
The book has been selected for various group reading and discussions at other colleges and universities across the country, including UNC-Charlotte, the University of South Carolina and Northern Kentucky University.