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Young Harris College Prepares to Kick Off 2014 Common Reading Program

Friday, June 27, 2014

Young Harris College Prepares to Kick Off 2014 Common Reading Program

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot was recently chosen as the 2014 book for Young Harris College’s campus-wide Common Reading Program, which serves as an integral part of the First Year Foundations program that provides support and encouragement to new students and helps ensure their personal and academic success.

“This is a wonderful book that’s taught in many first-year programs across the country,” said Professor of English, First-Year Foundations Program Co-Director and Academic Success Center Director Louisa Franklin. “It provokes discussions about the whole intersectionality of race, gender, and poverty, and it makes us question how much of ourselves we own. We really hope the book gets students talking about philosophy, ethics, morality and ownership of self.”

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping and more. Lacks' cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown and her family can’t afford health insurance.

This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

All new students are required to read the Common Reading Program book before fall orientation. The program is designed to provide all new first-year students with a common intellectual experience to stimulate discussion and critical thinking, while also encouraging a sense of community among students, faculty and staff.

“It is crucial for incoming students to have something they can talk about together,” said START Orientation student director and senior English major Abby Larson of Marble, N.C. “The easiest and most rewarding way to do this is to have them read a book that will spark conversation, debate, and inquiry between and amongst students.”

The Common Reading Program committee is comprised of faculty, staff, and students like Larson who make each year’s selection after establishing a short list of books and reading the top picks. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was the 2013 runner-up, and the story made such an impression on the group that they returned to it this year.

“We started the program to create an academic common ground for all students walking into college,” said Franklin. “We hope it will trigger some initial conversations about whether or not they liked the book, which will evolve into more academic discussions about the topic as well as the process of reading and studying text.”