The Black Student Union (BSU) introduced a book club to campus this October to focus on Black literature and experiences. Discussions in the book club are facilitated on Discord.
The BSU book club operates similarly to a traditional book club. A new reading is announced each month, and students work together to read and discuss books about Black experiences. The club is also focused on promoting Black authors and book stores that specifically highlight Black literature.
“We like to highlight the varieties of Black literature, and we try to read different books than just anti-racist things. We want people to know more about the Black experiences – from Black women, to Black Muslims, to Black Jewish people, to experiences from the past, or even visions of what the world could be,” said Chastain Evans, the creator of the book club.
Evans is a junior and also the treasure of BSU. As the creator of the BSU book club, he is primarily responsible for running the Discord and facilitating discussion. Evans decided to create the book club to engage the campus in more in-depth conversations about what it means to be Black.
“I felt like the Black experience is showcased in a very monolithic way. We talk about diversity in a very singular way that isn’t very nuanced,” Evans said. “I want to show the intersectionality of the Black community. Blackness comes in all forms, and we interact with the world in many different ways, just like everybody else does.”
Pascasie Redhage is a member of the BSU executive board. She frequently participates in the book club and also helps facilitate discussions. She wanted to be a part of the book club because she’s an avid reader and thinks reading Black literature is incredibly important.
“We’re currently in a time where a lot of people want to educate themselves, and they want to read more Black literature. The book club is a great way for anyone who is new to Black literature or just wants to learn to ask questions and engage in these conversations,” Redhage said.
Evans chose to host the book club over discord to make it easier for students to participate, especially during COVID-19. The discussions are run somewhat asynchronously. Evans posts new discussion topics over the reading or parts of the reading, and students can type out their responses on their own time. Evans would like to eventually host voice channel discussions as well.
Accessing the reading materials for the book club is also easy for participants. The club only chooses books or literature that they know they will have free access to, either through copies at the library, in PDF form, via audiobooks, or all three. The club wants to make it easy for everyone to participate.
However, the club began in October, and engagement has been relatively minimal so far.
“There has been a lot of interest, but there’s also a lot of barriers, like time. Students are having to read extra material, so I try to get books that they can listen to if they prefer. There are a lot of avenues that people can take if they’re nervous about participating.” Evans said. “We also have prizes that we give out, so hopefully that encourages people to engage more.”
During October, the BSU book club’s first month, Redhage was one of the few participants.
“During that time, no one was really participating, but for November, we actually have a lot more people who have joined the Discord. I’m really excited about that,” Redhage said. “Last month, I won the prize because I was the only person who participated. I’m hoping someone gives me a run for my money this month.”
Evans acknowledged that another barrier that might prevent people from participating is that many students are nervous about discussing race.
“I know a lot of white students, in particular, are anxious about joining because having opinions about Black literature is hard, and they don’t want to speak from a place of privilege or ignorance. However, I also accept questions,” Evans said.
Evans acknowledged that questions are an important part of these discussions. He also believes that there are many other ways that people from all backgrounds can contribute to these discussions.
“For example, we could be reading about a Jewish Black person, and none of the Black people in the discussion are Jewish,” Evans said. “But a white student could be Jewish and add to the conversation about that character’s Jewish identity and how they think that intersects differently for a person who is Black and Jewish.”
The ultimate goal for the book club, in the eyes of both Evans and Redhage, is to increase engagement and get the campus to talk about these issues.
Both Evans and Redhage also emphasized the importance of discovering and discussing a wider range of Black experiences through literature.
“As a society, we are very individualistic. We are very self-centered when it comes to our experiences, so it’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of not seeing yourself in other people, especially not seeing yourself in other marginalized groups,” Evans said. “It’s important that we engage in experiences that are outside of our normal worldview. Literature really helps with that.”
Redhage appreciates the club’s focus on intersectional literature in particular.
“I think when you are Black and also a part of another minority group, being Black is the identity that gets highlighted the most. I think a lot of the time, our skin color overshadows the other things that are affecting us,” Redhage said. “It’s not just ‘I’m Black, and that’s it.’ There are more issues that we are a part of, and I think reading about those different experiences is extremely important.”
Redhage also believes the BSU book club has a special significance for Simpson students in particular.
“I don’t think a lot of students at Simpson get a lot of exposure to Black literature and Black history, and those are things that everyone should learn, in my opinion. Black history is American history,” Redhage said.
Evans hopes to continue to grow the club and believes it is not only an important opportunity for students but also one that is fun.
“We all engage with things from the Black community all the time. We all take in Black music, TV shows, and even the language we use, so I think it’s also important that we come together and discuss Black experiences too,” Evans said. “Discussing, understanding, and appreciating the complexity and diversity of Black experiences is really important, but also really fun and interesting.”
If students are interested in joining the BSU book club, they use this link: https://discord.gg/vFyRMzQRGU to access the Discord. They can also check the Campus Pulse for more information or reach out to Chastain Evans via email at [email protected].