Open Books-Open Minds now a RIC tradition

Since its inception in the spring semester 2006, the Open Books-Open Minds program has become one of the college’s staple traditions. That’s why you might see many on the campus engrossed in this semester's book, “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.”

The Open Books-Open Minds kick-off event on Sept. 8.
Open Books-Open Minds is a common book project that crosses many disciplines throughout the campus. Incoming freshmen, transfer students and faculty are encouraged to read a book, selected for its significance, relevance and quality. Then the readers come together to discuss the book and can participate in a series of events related to the themes and content of the work.

“Common book projects like Open Books-Open Minds have been documented to aid in student retention, increase student involvement in extracurricular activities and increase students' perception of a more vibrant and robust college community,” said committee member Judith Stokes, associate professor and electronic resources/serials librarian.

According to Stokes, Open Books-Open Minds began through the efforts of an enthusiastic group of student volunteers who were members of the American Democracy Project at RIC. The group was coordinated by Valerie Endress, political communication professor. Over time, student involvement with the program has become an integral part of the program.

The program grew to include a mentorship opportunity organized by Student Activities. Students who volunteer are responsible for a group of approximately 20-25 incoming students.

Mentors contact their assigned students during the summer, attend a training session, and lead discussions at the Open Books-Open Minds kick-off event, held this year on Sept. 8. Mentors also answer questions and concerns new students have about RIC and campus life.

The mentorship program has become so successful that this year the college has launched a one-credit course for students who want to be more involved in helping students and organizing activities. Fifteen students are currently enrolled in the course, taught by Marissa Weiss, assistant director of Student Activities.

RIC Vision 2015, the college’s long-term strategic plan, states that RIC is committed to “institute a comprehensive First-Year-Experience program to integrate students into college life, including academic expectations and the culture of higher education.”

One of several displays at the kick-off event.
“Open Books-Open Minds will serve the objectives of that program and evolve with it,” said Stokes.

“Fast Food Nation,” explores the ethics and cultural questions plaguing America’s fast food industry. “Even if we do not see factory farms in Rhode Island, educated people should know that the peaceful scene on the milk carton does not resemble the life of the vast majority of dairy cows, let alone beef cattle,” said Stokes. “What about advertising to children? Is giving away toys with fatty salty foods okay with us?”

Professors are starting to incorporate Open Books-Open Minds into lectures. RIC freshman, Rachel Greenleaf, wrote in professor William Pett’s Writing 100 class: “Americans cannot go through their day without seeing a billboard advertising McDonald’s new item, or hearing a radio advertisement for Burger King. From television, to music, to movies, and even language, fast food has influenced all of them. The fast food industry has affected nearly every aspect of the American lifestyle.”

“[The paper] demonstrates the value of bringing together a class of new students with the common experience of reading and discussing a book and writing about it in an academic context,” said Stokes.

The next book will be selected by RIC via an online survey. Faculty and students will have a choice of three or four books selected by the Open Books-Open Minds Committee. Voting begins in early December and continues throughout the month. The results will be announced in January.