KALAMAZOO, Mich.—She’s been accused of “talking White” and “acting Black.” Of being racially ambiguous. Of being confused. But her identity, the ways in which she sees and understands herself, belies such insults, stereotypes, and generalizations. This is what some learned while “reading” an anonymous individual representing her own human “book” titled “Multi-Racial/Multi-Cultural/Multi-Ethnic” during WMU’s inaugural Human Library event, held last April.
This year, the campus community will have another chance to meet different people with diverse identities, and to talk about their own experiences too in a safe, nonjudgmental and welcoming environment.
The University’s 2020 Human Library: Unjudge Someone event is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 4-6:30 p.m. on Waldo Library’s first floor. The intention is for people to “not judge a book by its cover,” but to instead delve deeper into topics they may otherwise not have had the opportunity or courage to ask about.
During the lead-up, organizers this month have been offering a series of orientation sessions for those interested in being “books” that can be checked out. Visitors, who must present a valid WMU identification to participate, will be able to “borrow” books in 15-minute increments by selecting from titles and short explanations.
According to event organizers, the Human Library “is a place where real people serve as human library books and where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.”
As with the first, this second event is licensed by the Human Library Organization. Launched 20 years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, this effort to gain greater understanding in order to challenge preconceived notions and prejudices has become a worldwide movement, with smaller traditional libraries, global brands and everything in between utilizing the organization’s positive foundational activities to increase dialogue, and therefore understanding.
Helming WMU’s effort is Marcy Peake, WMU’s director of diversity and community outreach for the College of Education and Human Development. She learned about the human library concept eight years ago, and for the past three years has been offering a modified version of it in her family and consumer sciences course titled “Gender, Culture and Families.” She asks her student to find a classmate with a different identity than their own (be it racial, spiritual or other), conduct formal research, and then discuss their findings with their classmate to explore how that research does or doesn’t individually align.
For the Feb. 12 Human Library event, individuals may check out as many “books” as they’d like, and ask questions. Conversation prompts will be on tables, and “librarians,” or monitors, will be nearby in case a book wishes to end a session early. Peake says precautions have been taken in case conversations become too heated, traumatic or triggering.
Last year’s event offered 16 books. This year, with increased marketing and other outreach efforts, Peake hopes to have up to 25 books available for WMU patrons. Western’s Human Library is an approved WMU Signature Program event, which means students can earn credit through the engagement program for participating.
Although this year’s event is limited to student, faculty and staff participation because of the limited number of volunteers, organizers are hoping to open it to the community in the future.
“I’m having conversations about getting the community part on board,” says Peake.
Her grander goal is to offer an ongoing book repository that wouldn’t be limited to one day. She would also like to incorporate career-focused human books for younger students to check out so that misperceptions can be demystified and debunked.
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