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Sotomayor’s memoir chosen as First Reading

Incoming class will read ‘My Beloved World,’ recounting Supreme Court Justice’s life

Members of the incoming class of 2020 will read “My Beloved World,” a memoir written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as their First Readings text, said Dean of the College Maud Mandel. 

The goal of the First Readings program  is “to give all incoming students a collective first engagement with the kinds of intellectual conversations they are going to have on campus,” Mandel said.

“My Beloved World” was chosen by the First Readings Committee after a months-long selection process that began in the fall. Students were given the opportunity to nominate texts and to provide feedback throughout the process.

To be selected as a First Readings text, eligible books should provide “a rich learning experience” for the incoming class that encourages “reflection on the self and society defined broadly,” Mandel said. They should also be of “high intellectual merit and have a strong ethical compass.”

“It’s not just a good book. It’s a good book that we hope is speaking at a number of levels to students before they come to Brown,” Mandel said. She expects that the book will be a great source of discussion for the incoming students.

In the memoir, Sotomayor recounts her journey from a Bronx, New York housing project to the federal bench. In 2009, she became the first Hispanic person to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. “It’s a story of a first-gen, low-income child of immigrants who went through a path that is both moving and revealing in many ways about our society,” Mandel said.

In addition to reflecting on her life, Sotomayor also discusses “some of the key issues of our time,” like criminal justice reform and affirmative action, Mandel said.

The First Readings program was established in 2007. Since becoming Dean of the College in July 2014, Mandel said she has made changes to the selection process for texts to include more community engagement.

Last year Mandel established the First Readings Committee to “draw on the expertise of colleagues from across the University,” she said. This year, it was composed of several faculty members across disciplines, as well as two undergraduate student representatives: Andrea Wistuba Behrens ’16 and Timothy Ittner ’18.

“We all collaborate really well, and it brings a really great diversity of experiences and perspectives into the committee room,” Ittner said. “We can all bring our own strengths from our various disciplines and our styles of learning.”

“It’s been a great way to reimagine the First Readings Program,” Wistuba Behrens said.

Ittner and Wistuba Behrens also said they were thrilled about the selection of “My Beloved World.”

“It’s so particularly salient for our current Brown University,” Wistuba Behrens said. The book allows students who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to see what impact they can potentially have on the world, she added.

Over the summer, members of the class of 2020 will be instructed to read “My Beloved World” and write a letter of reflection to their seminar advisors. Discussions of the memoir will take place during orientation.

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