Two Campuses, One Book: Summer Program Unites Rivals

One of the greatest intercollegiate rivalries on the planet has been put aside to get incoming students at Carolina and Duke on the same page.

For the first time, new students at the two campuses will be asked to read the same book as part of the campuses’ summer reading program — Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Administrators at the two universities decided to consolidate their programs to strengthen ties between the campuses. This is UNC’s 13th year with a program and Duke’s 10th.

Schools also typically ask authors of their summer reading books to speak on campus during orientation or soon thereafter, and the geographic proximity of Duke and Carolina may make that an easier proposition.

A 21-member selection committee of students, faculty and staff from both universities chose the book this week from six finalists. Students on the committee described Eating Animals as an evenhanded review of the food industry – not a campaign for vegetarianism.

The schools will ask new students enrolling this fall to read the book this summer and participate in small group discussions during orientation or soon thereafter. The program aims to stimulate critical thinking outside the classroom and give new students intellectual common ground. An academic icebreaker, it is designed to encourage students to engage with the scholarly community and come to their own conclusions about the material.

Eating Animals, published in 2009, “is a narrative that compiles a lot of research about food in general,” said Aviv Sheetrit, a Carolina senior from Cary. “[Foer’s] able to present his information as a body of objective research in regard to our relationship with food.”

Elizabeth Behar, a UNC senior from Henderson, said she thinks all students will be able to relate to the book. Nathan French, a Duke senior from Pittsford, N.Y., said, “It brings up something that isn’t often talked about. There are a lot of good discussion points.”

Priya Bhat, a Duke senior from Nashville, Tenn., said that Eating Animals was her top choice. “For me, it’s not just a book about food,” she said. “It’s a book about being really active in making your own decisions.”

UNC summer school Dean Jan Yopp, Walter Spearman Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Donna Lisker, Duke associate vice provost for undergraduate education and adjunct faculty member in women’s studies, chaired the committee. Work began last fall, when nominations were solicited – at UNC, from campus, and at Duke, from campus, alumni and parents. UNC heard from 427 people who nominated 316 books; 115 people nominated 77 titles at Duke, said UNC staffer Shandol Hoover. Of the total of 393 books suggested, 24 were nominated at both schools.

The other five finalists were The Sea by John Banville; Shopclass As Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford; The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; and Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams. The committee considered fiction and nonfiction, and the finalists were a mixture of the two.

The two schools have never selected the same book for the reading program.

Since it began in 1999, UNC’s program selections have been There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz; Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz; The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman; Approaching the Qur’an by Michael Sells; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich; Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky; Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson; The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri; The Death of the Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions by Sister Helen Prejean; Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino; A Home on the Field by UNC faculty member Paul Cuadros; and Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton.

Since its inception in 2002, Duke’s summer reading program selections have been The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin; Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol; Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult; The Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson; What Is the What by Dave Eggers; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz; and Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr.


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