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December 15, 2017

Diversity Book Club Selections, Discussions Explore the Experiences of a Variety of Cultures

Donna M. King attended her first Diversity Book Club event at Pitt in June – a lunch discussion of a young adult novel about LGBT youth by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, called “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.”

The book club discussion “just opens your eyes,” said King, personnel administrator in the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR). “You go in with your own ideas about something and then you listen to other people, particularly those involved in a different way of life. It helps you to learn and to grow.

“It was sitting down and breaking bread with a very diversified crowd,” she added. “And the book was great.”

The new Diversity Book Club, founded in fall 2016 by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, holds such events every few months. The aim is to bring Pitt staff, faculty and students together for discussions of issues surrounding the vast variety of lives on campus and in the wider world. There are no official club members, noted Lisa Garland, the office’s diversity and multi-cultural program manager and chair of the book club committee, and each gathering is different. They range from large lectures to small discussions limited to 25 people, featuring free lunches and books.

The first event was a talk and dialog led by UCSUR Director and Donald M. Henderson Professor Larry E. Davis, outgoing School of Social Work dean, on his book about race relations, “Why Are They Angry With Us?” In March 2017, the club organized a panel discussion of Roxane Gay’s book, “Bad Feminist,” for Women’s History Month. Following the June LGBT gathering, the experiences of veterans were highlighted in November, with Office of Veterans Services leaders aiding discussions of the essays in “Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home.”

“The lunch discussion is very intimate,” Garland noted. In fact, the atmosphere at each club event aims to be “very laid back. It’s open to everybody and is an opportunity to network and reflect. They can share fellowship and stories.”

Club events were conceived to continue programming that supports the Year of Diversity, the University’s theme for the 2015-2016 academic year, for which the Office of the Provost had funded many new initiatives. The club committee is now seeking ideas for books to focus on, in fresh areas of diversity, Garland said. Campus groups and individuals are encouraged to offer suggestions by clicking here.

The committee is considering Black History Month, in February 2018, for its next event, and later events on those with disabilities and on men’s issues. Garland hopes to bring in a Pitt author for one of the next gatherings to lead a small-group conversation, as the committee continues to devise new ways for the club to meet and discuss each book.

Committee member Shannon Murphy, director of marketing and communications in the School of Social Work, has been involved since the first event.

“Diversity is such a core value at Pitt — we’d definitely like to see it grow and grow,” Murphy said of the club. She hopes that future events “will open people’s eyes to different groups on campus and the issues they might face.” Already, she has seen the book club have an effect, with attendees “realizing there are lots of different ways to think. There’s no shortage of diversity on campus and there’s no shortage of diversity in literature.”

Committee member Carrie Benson, Title IX Specialist in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, has heard book club attendees bring new perspectives that even the expert presenters hadn’t envisioned.

“It’s always set up in a way for people to share their thoughts and ideas,” she said of each club event. “It also provides people the opportunity to read something they may not have normally picked up.”

The book club committee is hoping that club events have an impact on campus, and the experience of club members has shown that the effects of club discussions can last. After the June club event, Donna King found herself speaking to family and office colleague about new LGBT issues.

“It helps to change the lives of others as you spread the information,” King said of her club experience. That’s why she was eager to attend last month’s gathering about veterans’ lives.

“I don’t generally read anything that has to do with the military,” she admitted. “But everything we’re reading puts you in somebody else’s shoes. It’s all about growing and realizing we are all part of this human family.”

Additional Reading Resources

To join the Diversity Book Club and get information about the latest club events, email

A new book club forming early next year will focus on titles about relationships, communication skills and mental health issues. Read more about the Mental Wellness Book Club and find out how to get involved in January.

Check out what some of members Pitt’s faculty and staff look forward to reading over the winter recess.


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 9

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