by Patrick Healey ’17
For incoming freshmen and transfer students coming to Providence College, the first assignment they will receive will be to read what is known as the “common reading book,” which all freshmen are required to read during the summer leading up to their first semester at PC.
The College takes this opening requirement very seriously, and there is a great deal of preparation that goes into choosing a book that is meant to be enjoyable as well as thought-provoking. Established at PC in 2010, with a goal of providing stimulating and educational conversation which can bring all incoming students together, the common reading book has become a staple at the College.
Tiffany Gaffney, associate dean of students and chair of the Book selection committee, explained that a recommendation committee is put together to make sure that the best possible book is chosen for the incoming freshmen to read.
Many elements go into finding what is hopefully the perfect book, including thorough examinations of reading lists, researching what other institutions are having their students read, as well as more logistical things regarding the book, such as availability, cost, and length.
Dean Gaffney said that over 100 books are considered, and then narrowed down to seven, which everyone on the committee is required to read over winter break.
Those seven are then narrowed further to three books, which are then given to the President and provost who make the final decision. Dean Gaffney said that both students and faculty are on the recommendation committee, and a passion for reading is the main qualification, ensuring that those choosing the book are committed and passionate about the task at hand.
Dean Gaffney noted that one of her favorite parts of the process is having an “opportunity to participate in academic conversations,” because she works on the business side of school operations.
The common reading book provides an outlet for people of all areas of the school to engage in conversation and get to know each other better, and Dean Gaffney called the program “very inclusive.”
For next year’s incoming freshmen, the common reading book that was selected is Spare Parts, by Joshua Davis. This book was unanimously selected by the committee as the best choice. Dean Gaffney spoke passionately about the book, which chronicles the story of four undocumented teenagers in America, saying, “I was able to experience, through these four boys, things I never could have experienced.”
The main goal in selecting a book is maximum engagement and enjoyment for the students who are required to read it. PC tries to ensure that there are follow up activities throughout the school year to spark more discussion and create a community using the common reading book.
Events and activities are still being planned for Spare Parts, but last year’s common reading activities featured an essay contest and multiple discussion sessions for those who wished to participate.
Last year’s freshmen were assigned I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot by the Taliban, by the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, which Gaffney thought produced a particularly positive response from students.
Catherine Goldberg ’20, said that her reading experience was, “very eye opening because in a place like America we are so privileged to have education and we don’t realize that girls in Afghanistan don’t have that opportunity.”
While summer reading assignments can sometimes be pushed aside as “busy work” or unimportant, PC has placed great effort into choosing books and activities which will provide students with a meaningful and fulfilling experience worthy of their time and attention.