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Common Read for a Better World

The book Between the World and Me challenged students to engage in civil conversations around difficult topics like inequality

Engaging students in challenging conversations can be difficult, and often uncomfortable, but CMU values civil discourse and encourages it both inside and outside the classroom. In the Spring, more than 1,000 English 111 students were tasked with reading and responding to the Ta’Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. The book is a National Book Award winner, the subject of a documentary film and podcast, and a spark for discussions on race, justice and writing in book clubs and at universities across the country. The assignment was given to challenge the students’ understanding of American history, civic and personal responsibility, systemic inequities and public engagement. 

Out of the 1,000+ entries, faculty chose four pieces that stood out among the others. The four student pieces covered topics such as police brutality, unification of community and bringing awareness to racial inequality in our society. 

“This common read challenged students and instructors to encourage diversity by exposing them to different life experiences in America. Additionally, it cultivated students' abilities to critically think about American history and systemic inequities embedded within. And it led students to discuss important social issues which helped them develop insights about their social responsibility in advancing the common good,” said CMU Assistant Professor of English Tiffany Kinney, PhD. 

Not only did this assignment give students a glimpse into the lives of those impacted by racial inequality, but it also taught them to use their voices to enact change.

Assignments that spark dialogue such as this are an indication as to what students and faculty aim to achieve. Between the World and Me challenged students to engage in civil conversations around difficult topics like inequality. English 111 classrooms prove to do more than just classwork. They’re teaching empathy and action for a more just world.



Written by Tyler Cotton