For the past five months, people across the University of Chicago have been reading the same graphic novel as part of an effort to build community on campus.
Through the inaugural UChicago Common Book Initiative, more than 1,500 copies of author Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do have been distributed, with hundreds downloaded through the University Library. Events across campus have discussed the award-winning memoir—the story of a family’s journey from Vietnam to the United States in the 1970s—chosen for its ability to address issues tied to diversity and inclusion through compelling storytelling.
This year’s initiative will culminate April 22 with a campus visit by the author, who will meet with several student groups, lead a graphic novel workshop and present a free, public lecture at 6 p.m. at the International House.
“The Common Book Initiative serves as an important platform to engage all members of our community,” said Raja Gopal Bhattar, assistant provost and executive director of the Center for Identity + Inclusion and the primary organizer of the Common Book Initiative. “Being a decentralized campus, it’s hard to connect with people outside of our day-to-day networks, and our goal was to provide a shared experience that can foster cross-campus collaborations and community.”
The Common Book Initiative kicked off in November 2018. In the following months, academic units and departments held small group book discussions across campus, course materials and discussion guides were developed to help educators integrate the book into their classes, and academic units hosted faculty panels exploring different topics from the book.
The book’s format as a graphic novel ensured that it would be accessible to more audiences.
“Books and art have a unique ability to show, not tell, what it’s like to be excluded and powerless to do anything about it,” Bui explained. “None of my experiences were particularly special, but the fact that they’re written down and visually depicted allow people to sit down with each other and have conversations, and get to share and discuss their own experiences.”
The April 22 lecture is open to all members of the UChicago and neighboring communities. Please RSVP here.
Note: In addition to the Center for Identity + Inclusion, many other units across campus participated in the Common Book Initiative. Partners include students, staff, and faculty representing the Office of the Provost, University Libraries, International House, College Programming and Orientation, Laboratory Schools, Law School, Harris School of Public Policy, School for Social Services Administration, Booth School of Business Administration, Social Sciences Division, Humanities Division, Divinity School, Biological Sciences Division, Pritzker School of Medicine, Center for Student Leadership and Involvement, Smart Museum of Art, UChicago Bookstore, Seminary Co-op, UChicagoGRAD, Student Centers, Chicago Center for Teaching, Office of Civic Engagement, Department of English, Alumni Engagement, UChicago Athletics, and many others.