“I think there’s more diversity now,” said one student. “Oh, I don’t think so at all,” another quickly countered.
It’s mid-morning on November 17, and these ninth-graders from University City High School are at Washington University having a robust discussion on the book “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son, the book explores America’s long and persistent history of racial injustice.
“This was my first time reading about something so deep,” Darion Reed said. “It made me think about what’s actually happening in the world. It brought me out of the dark.”
The students felt the book was very timely, considering the recent election of Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, and the shooting death two years ago of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In fact, one of the students said she had a family member who was related to Brown, and that the book struck a chord with her.
“I loved reading this book because it related to me and my family,” Shamya Shaw said. “It changed my way of thinking a lot.”
The group of 24 students visited Washington University as a community extension of the University’s Freshman First Year Reading Program. The K-12 Connections program has provided the free books and campus experiences to high school groups for many years.
The students were broken up into two book discussions, led by Jeffery Matthews, professor of the practice in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences; and Stanton Braude, professor of practice in biology in Arts & Sciences.
Braude enjoys the opportunity to volunteer for the program. He says it’s a way to encourage students to be thinkers, questioners and writers. “The committee always chooses powerful texts for the students to read,” he said.
Jayla Fitch paid Braude the highest compliment. “When I go to college I want a professor like him,” she said.
Matthews looks forward to the conversations he has with these younger students, and the different perspective that they bring to the writing.
“I’ve done this for a few years now, and each time they have impressed me with their thoughtful comments. I take as much from the discussion as I give,” he said. “This has been a challenging time for our community, and I came into the talk burdened with a deep concern about the future. After speaking with these young students and deeply listening to them, I felt a refreshing sense of hope.”
The campus visit also included a tour of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, where Kemper educator Amy Miller led the students through explorations of race and injustice in art.
The K-12 Connections Program strives to connect the resources of Washington University to the local K-12 educational community. Students, staff, faculty members and organizations are matched with volunteer opportunities in high-needs urban school districts in the St. Louis area.
November 2016 | by, Myra Lopez