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Letter: Help make the First Readings program better

To the Editor:

I appreciated the proposals included in the April 12 editorial entitled “Reforming the First Readings program.” I have been an undergraduate representative on the First Readings committee for the past two years, and I am committed to our stated mission to “offer an intellectually rich learning experience that encourages reflection and dialogue for Brown’s diverse incoming class.” The editorial page board correctly points out that our choice of text is only one component of this learning experience; equally important are the reflection, seminar, and subsequent campus events, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s recent visit to Brown.

The text, however, is the component that we have the most control over and can give the most thought to. Over six months, eight faculty, administrators and students carefully discuss which book to choose. It is difficult to give similarly thorough guidance to students in other parts of the First Readings process. Every year, between 1,500 and 2,000 people engage with the text we choose, and the sheer numbers sometimes constrain our efforts to make the First Readings experience as meaningful as it should be.

To make the overall experience as engaging and rewarding as it ought to be, while acknowledging the problems of scale, we should all pitch in. The First Readings process engages the entire community: We solicit nominations, encourage comments on our shortlist and welcome feedback throughout the process. Furthermore, my term on the committee finishes this year. The Undergraduate Council of Students will soon open applications for appointment as one of the two undergraduate representatives on the First Readings committee. If you have thoughts on our work, I would love to see you join us! It is up to the committee to choose the book, but it is up to our community to make First Readings a meaningful learning experience.

Aliosha Bielenberg ’20

Undergraduate representative, First Readings committee


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