By Mason Braasch
When Desiree Bates, a computational chemistry leader, AJ Boydston, a professor in the department, and Cathy Clewett, a senior instrument technologist, came up with the idea of a Chemistry Book Club that would tackle hard, but relevant topics, they had no idea of the interest that it would gauge. More than 100 people have joined.
“It was an exciting and overwhelming amount of interest,” Boydston exclaimed.
Faculty members, staff, and students were dispersed into nine small groups to foster meaningful discussions and experiences. While basic ground rules were put into place to ensure safe spaces for all participants, members are free of any preexisting academic structure.
“It’s definitely not a course,” Boydston said. “We want people to feel like they’re discussing as peers, and that they all have the same sense of agency within their book club group.”
The book club groups will all be reading three books; How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and Feminism is For Everybody by bell hooks. Bates, Boydston, and Clewett were inspired to choose these books based on the events they saw happening in society, and the impacts that these books seemed to have in creating conversations.
“We wanted to take an active role in educating our community,” Bates said. “I think that educating ourselves about how systemic issues are built into society is important. Learning about these issues is key to creating a better environment.”
Along with providing the book recommendations and discussion questions, Bates and Boydston are making sure that everyone has access to the book, regardless of any issues or circumstances that may cause an individual difficulty in acquiring it.
Bates said “if they need a book, we provide it.”
Although the individual groups are all reading the same books, they are free to explore other activities and grow as a group as well. Bates explained that the group she belongs to also incorporates personality questions within their discussions, in order to understand and connect with each other on a deeper level.
“I like how the personality of each group is coming out” Bates said.
As the groups dived into the first chapters of the books, Bates, Boydston, and Clewett shared that their hope for the club is that it continues to foster conversation and change throughout the department.
“My hope is that people learn something,” Boydston said. “I hope that they learn som
ething about themselves, something about their own perspectives, and something about the perspectives of others. I also hope that this conversation becomes normalized and doesn’t become an isolated topic. I hope it becomes an integrated part of everything that we are trying to do to improve.”
As the book club continues, Bates emphasizes the importance of the conversations that are happening within each group, and the impact that they could have on the Department of Chemistry’s community.
“This book club is a direct way of giving everyone the control of changing our system and being educated on how to do that,” she said, “we want to acknowledge and say to our students of color; it’s not just your issue to fight, it’s all of ours.