Mashup of books and New York Tech DEI logo


Exploring DEI Through Literature

November 18, 2021

As co-chair of the College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, Sloane Kelley has been involved in numerous conversations surrounding topics of unconscious bias, systemic racism, and other issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion; conversations that aren’t always comfortable or easy.

Enter the Same Page Book Club, the brainchild of Kelley, librarian at NYITCOM-Arkansas, and Lillian Niwagaba, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of global medicine at NYITCOM on the Long Island campus and co-chair of the NYITCOM DEI task force.

According to Kelley, the impetus for the book club was to create a safe space to facilitate conversations around DEI within the NYITCOM community through reading and discussing books related to DEI topics. The book club is open to all students, faculty, and staff of NYITCOM at both campuses, with meetings held virtually.

“One of my favorite things to do is to read a good book and discuss it with other people who have read it,” says Kelley. “That’s what we’re doing, but with a greater purpose. The book gives a starting point to have these conversations and to move forward in these efforts.”

The goal for the club is to read one book per semester, launching this fall with Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy, M.D., a memoir about the intersection of race throughout the author’s medical training, including socioeconomic challenges and health disparities. “He relates things on such a human level and provides examples that might be helpful for medical students looking for direction in how to navigate certain situations,” she says.

Students, faculty, and staff held separate conversations in October on the first sections of the book and will come together in December for a joint conversation on the remainder. “This is an excellent way to learn another perspective by being immersed in somebody else’s story,” she says.  

“Literature offers the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience other worlds,” says Elizabeth Donaldson, Ph.D., professor of English.

On November 2, Donaldson facilitated a conversation with Jennifer Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of English, about Griffith’s research surrounding representations of Black adolescents as agents of social justice in contemporary African American literature.

“But you forgot I was a seed:” Black Youth and Reckoning in 21st Century African American Literature was held as part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Digital Café speaker series. “Part of our goal is to help students have a more rounded college experience by giving them access to speakers and topics of discussion that they might not experience in the classroom,” says Donaldson. “Many of our students are very focused on science and career-oriented types of classes. The College of Arts and Sciences can contribute topics of discussion linked to current events that might not make it into the normal curriculum and class discussion.”

Griffiths’ presentation centered on the activism surrounding reckoning and reparations spurred by the Black Lives Matter movements and was drawn from a forthcoming book chapter for the series African American Literature in Transition published by Cambridge University Press. She shared examples from the works Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead that illustrate how unaccounted-for history can cause recurring trauma with relation to race in this country.

“There’s a lot of research about how literature connects to empathy and offers us an opportunity to connect across differences,” says Griffiths. “We have a very diverse student body at New York Tech, and we want to train students to be leaders. Part of being a leader is knowing how to listen to someone else’s experience and someone else’s story.”

Programs such as the Same Page Book Club and the Dean’s Digital Café series help further New York Tech’s mission to “elevate conversations to bring in more inclusion and belonging on campus for all points of views,” says Anu Raj, Psy.D., co-chair of New York Tech’s DEI Task Force.

While nothing is concrete, Raj says there is discussion about implementing an institution-wide summer reading project, where all students, faculty, and staff would read the same book over the summer and then have the opportunity to discuss it during a series of fireside chats in the fall. “We need to make sure we can facilitate the conversations at that scale, but our goal is to look at some of the successful DEI programming happening at a smaller level to create an experience for the entire campus,” she says.

By Renée Gearhart Levy