Book brings students together

Incoming first years will receive a copy of Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt

The Common Reading Program is being introduced at Queen’s for the first time.
The Common Reading Program is being introduced at Queen’s for the first time.
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A new reading program is giving incoming students something to talk about come September.

This summer, every incoming first-year student will receive a copy of Charlotte Gill’s book Eating Dirt as part of the University’s first-ever Common Reading Program. The hope, according to the Student Affairs website, is that students will use the book as a springboard for discussion when they begin school in the fall.

“The program aims to introduce first-year students to our academic culture and to the kind of reading, writing and critical thinking they will be doing at Queen’s,” Arig Girgrah, Assistant Dean of Student Life and Learning, told the Journal via email.

In 2011, the University introduced the Academic Plan, which advocates providing “all students, regardless of their chosen program or discipline, with core competencies.” “It also stresses the importance of building community,” Girgrah said. “Over the last few years, there has been a recognition that at Queen’s, we need to do more in and out of the classroom to support the academic transition to life as a Queen’s student.”

The Common Reading Program was created in association with Kingston WritersFest, and will be funded in part by a grant, as well as funding and resources from Student Affairs.

“The program, including printing and mailing books to students as well as organizing a public speaking event delivered by the author, is expected to cost about $65,000,” she said.

This is the first year of the program at Queen’s, but other schools, such as McMaster University and the University of Calgary, have Common Reading Programs of their own.

The program at McMaster is in its second year. At McMaster, students receive their copy of the book during summer orientation, which is also where most common reading activities occur.

“We had a good percentage participate for the pilot year,” McMaster’s program coordinator Devin Dzelme said.

Eating Dirt was one of a few books shortlisted with Kingston WritersFest and it won the 2012 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Eating Dirt will be mailed out to all incoming full-time first-year students, separate from other first-year mail packages.

“There are activities planned to engage everyone,” Girgrah said.

“We have created a Facebook group and over the summer, people can discuss the book online.”

Residence dons, graduate and upper-year students, and volunteer staff and faculty will then lead book discussions during fall orientation week.

Eating Dirt documents author Charlotte Gill’s experiences planting trees in the forests of Canada.

Thanks to a partnership between Queen’s and Kingston WritersFest, Gill will speak in an event open to all first-year students in September. There will also be a book signing and an essay contest, with the winner getting the opportunity to have lunch with Principal Daniel Woolf.

“We thought the lunch would be an interesting opportunity for students to get to know the Principal and he is really keen to participate in the program,” Girgrah said, adding that other contest prizes will be announced shortly.

In an email to the Journal, Gill said she would’ve found it a small comfort to know that several hundred other students were sharing the same extracurricular experience before she started her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto.

“I feel that my job as a writer isn’t to tell anyone how to behave or think, but simply to describe how it is from my angle,” she said. “When I remember my own post-secondary experience, I think I would have felt relieved if someone had told me I could relax into the experience.”

Incoming first-year Ben Lewis said he thinks the Common Reading Program will be beneficial when it comes to developing new relationships at Queen’s.

“I know that other friends at other schools have done it. It brought them together with different groups of friends,” Lewis, ArtSci ’16, said. “I’m definitely going to read it. It’s a good excuse to meet girls.” He thinks the program will be a good way to connect with people of different interests.

“It means that even if I don’t have anything in common with someone then I can spark a conversation right off the bat.”

— With files from Holly Tousignant

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