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Guest lecturer encourages change through storytelling

At the center of this year’s New Student Book Experience is the question of what we, as individuals, can do to be part of the change that authors say must happen. This was also the theme of the lecture in the University Center on Wednesday.

This year marks the fourteenth year of the UMBC New Student Book Experience, an initiative that began to welcome incoming UMBC students and provide them with a shared experience and learning opportunity. The initiative began with President Freeman Hrabowski, and over the last decade, has grown to the campus-wide event that it is today.

The committee who chooses the books wants them to be relevant and engaging for students, and all UMBC students are allowed to nominate books. Jill Randles, the Assistant Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and a member of the committee, says the books are “chosen through [a] committee composed of faculty, staff and students. It’s very representative of many disciplines; it’s a very comprehensive, big group.” She adds that the committee really values student opinions. “We lean heavily on the student voice, they read everything and have wonderful suggestions,” she says.

“Half The Sky” was co-written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and this Wednesday WuDunn came to campus to discuss the book and its relevance. In the book, she details the problems facing women in societies across the world today and argues that society will see the biggest social change when the biggest challenges are addressed. The audience was invested in her lecture. Freshman media and communications major Anjali DasSarma said, “she was a very excellent storyteller; it was almost like watching theater. It was interesting hearing her retell the stories in the book.”

Hope Mesngon is a freshman media and communications studies major with a minor in gender and women’s studies who says she found the book and lecture eye-opening. “[I] was surprised at how much abuse and wrong there was in the third world, but I loved the empowering stories,” Mesngon notes.

The empowering stories of “Half the Sky” drew a lot of students in, including Lilly LaFemina, a media and communications studies major and French minor. “Some parts of the book were hard to read because some of the stories were so powerful,” LaFemina admits. “But she incorporates more hopeful stories at the end.” DasSarma enjoyed how thought-provoking the book was, and is interested in reading more of WuDunn’s work.

The committee felt that “Half the Sky” would be important for students read because “[we] felt that it was an issue that we knew about but didn’t really know about. It struck deeply at challenges across the globe that maybe we weren’t aware of,” said Randles. It was a book that covered a variety of topics, making it an excellent book for a variety of classes to discuss. All UMBC students, new and returning, are encouraged to consider WuDunn’s closing words, given when she explained why everyone must try to support a cause larger than themselves: “be happier, live longer, help save the world.”