Summer reading tackles race issues

Sam+Klein+SAGAMORE+STAFF

Sam Klein SAGAMORE STAFF

Valentina Rojas, Arts Editor

Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray. Their deaths brought to light vital issues surrounding police brutality and racism.

The summer reading committee’s choice of “Caucasia” and “American Born Chinese” put race at the forefront of conversations this fall.

The librarian representative to the summer reading committee, Lynn Cohen, said she wanted students to have the skills they needed to understand and combat racism.

“We were all so horrified about all the things that had happened, and all the things that continued, and we felt that there was never too much and that there was always a need for these conversations,” Cohen said. “I want to give our students everything we can. All the tools that are necessary to live in the world, and be thoughtful about how we deal with one another and how we respond intelligently to unfortunate, horrifying events.”

According to Malcolm Cawthorne, history and African-American studies teacher, the summer reading assignment was meant to help students understand the complexities revolving race.

“It was not meant to be punishing; it was to continue the discussion around race and identity in our school. I tell my students all the time you have the most inclusive generation this country has ever seen,” Cawthorne said. “But you are also living in the most complex time of identity. So it’s up to the adults to help you navigate through that.”

According to Associate Dean Melanee Alexander, Brookline residents have an especially important job.

“We have the responsibility to do a better job, especially in Brookline, to read about, to understand, to put ourselves in the shoes of people who look different than we do, have different experiences, speak different languages, come from different countries,” Alexander said.

Cawthorne also hoped that the summer reading would help students realize their identity.

“The idea of using literature to look at racial identity and the complexities of racial identity, I felt has always been very important for kids to get. It allows you to deal with difficulty in a more courageous way.” Cawthorne said. “To realize those are very real things for people, even for people who are not bi or multiracial. Whether it’s your peer group, or the sports you play, or the school you go to, most people have to navigate a world where even though you might see yourself as one identity, how they portray that in different scenarios is always different.”

“Whether it’s your peer group, or the sports you play, or the school you go to, most people have to navigate a world where even though you might see yourself as one identity, how they portray that in different scenarios is always different.”

Junior Sarah Simon said she had never been exposed to the idea of belonging to more than one group.

“The idea of race, since we’ve been focusing a lot on that during school, is a very important issue.” Simon said. “I think they wanted us to think about that. My teacher talked about how someone can be not only white or black but both, and so we thought about that, which I had never thought of before.”

Junior Genevieve Bondaryk struggled to connect with the characters.

“I thought the main purpose of the story was to discuss race, so it was talking about a mixed race person dealing with identity issues which I guess is the main point of the book but I had the perspective where I saw all the things she was going through as sort of extreme.” Bondaryk said.

Junior Carol Dalgarno said that “Caucasia”’s theme of invisibility vs. invisibility was very easy for her to relate to.

“I really enjoyed the book. My teacher, Ms. Westbrook really focused on the theme of visibility vs invisibility,” Dalgarno said. “I thought that was an interesting theme that I had kind of picked up on my own, but I thought it was very relevant to all of our lives.”

According to Alexander, the committee, composed of various faculty members at the high school including herself, chose the summer reading books in three sessions.

The committee decided on “Caucasia” and “American Born Chinese” to keep the race conversation alive and to help students understand acceptance.

“The whole idea is where you fit in the world, where you feel accepted and where you don’t feel accepted,” Cohen said, “and where you can be accepting to other people.”