WMU launches campuswide common read, sets leader training

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover.

University Common Read

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University has launched a campuswide common read program that starts this summer for all incoming and current students as well as all employees.

The book chosen for University Common Read 2012-13 is "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot. The award-winning, 384-page book has garnered attention from ethicists and the public at large.

It chronicles the famous case of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cells had an unusual property--unlike those of other donors, they could be kept alive and grown in the laboratory. In the 60 years since tissue samples were taken from Lacks without her knowledge, her cells have led to numerous medical breakthroughs and made untold millions of dollars for researchers and corporations worldwide.

WMU students and faculty and staff members are invited to join in reading Skloot's book this summer or fall, individually or in groups.

Training sessions

A 90-minute session on the basics of leading a group book discussion has been scheduled for 1:30 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, June 6 and Sept. 5, in Waldo Library's Meader Rare Book Room. To register for one of the training sessions, call (269) 387-5166.

"In past years, there have been common reads for First-Year Experience students and other segments of the University," notes Miranda Howard, who is helping to launch University Common Read 2012-13 with the aid of an employee committee. "It was decided that this should become a campuswide activity that brings everyone together through a shared experience."

Howard, professor of University Libraries and head of the library system's Technical Services Department, has set up a website to keep the University community informed about the new initiative and additional events as they are scheduled.

Planning is under way to set up a related film series and panel discussions in the fall as well as a public talk in February that will feature members of the Lacks family and possibly, the book's author.

Earlier this year, the College of Health and Human Services chose the Skloot book for its fifth annual Book Read, which officially kicked off March 16. First-Year Experience Programs has selected the book for the second consecutive year as the focus of the common read program it introduced in 2011 for new students, including transfer students.

New students attending orientation will again be asked to read the book over the summer, and activities related to the text will be integrated into the upcoming Fall Welcome program, fall semester courses and the FYE 2100 curriculum.

"We want incoming and transfer students to grab hold of 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' starting the first week of orientation," Howard says. "We also want the book to be incorporated into class work across campus. It's going to be used as the initial focus of readings and papers for English 1050, and we hope other faculty will incorporate it or related topics, as well."

In addition to being on sale in the WMU Bookstore, the book may be checked out at Waldo Library. Multiple copies are available and starting in early June, the library will distribute up to six books, along with accompanying study guides, to classes, staff-member book clubs, Registered Student Organizations, sororities, fraternities and other groups.

For more information, including reviews of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," visit libguides.wmich.edu/WMU_Common_Read. Questions may be directed to Miranda Howard at miranda.howard@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5166.