In July, President Joyce McConnell announced the selection for Colorado State University’s inaugural Rams Read: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric.
This initiative follows closely on the heels of a less formal campus read, Ibram X Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, which President McConnell asked all members of her Executive Leadership Team to read and to share with those on their own leadership and supervisory teams.
“Right now, people and communities across our nation are engaged in difficult conversations about racism, anti-blackness in particular, and other forms of bias,” she said. “CSU’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community—one where every person has a sense of belonging and the ability to thrive—is ongoing. And this particular moment in time offers us a tremendous opportunity to bring that conversation onto campus. Reading is one of the best ways I know to explore our world from other points of view. I hope Claudia Rankine’s excellent and highly readable book, will be a catalyst for getting those discussions started.”
The initiative is being planned and guided by three individuals, collectively known as “the tri-chairs”: Albert Bimper, Jr., an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and senior associate athletic director for diversity and inclusion; Ryan Barone, assistant vice president for student success; and Ryan Claycomb, professor of English and acting assistant dean of CLA, who led the Campus Read program for his previous institution before joining the CSU faculty. The chairs have convened a diverse working group of nearly 20 others from across the university to plan a range of events and facilitate discussions this fall.
Albert Bimper Jr.
Bimper suggested Citizen, a rich and accessible volume that takes the format of an extended poem. He says he found the invitation to co-chair Rams Read a bit ironic. “I was what you might call a late bloomer when it came to reading,” he said. “I am hopeful that through Rams Read we will find ways to connect with others through listening and conversations of how all of our stories may be captured between the lines.” (See sidebar.)
Barone says he looks forward to Rams Read being a shared emotional and intellectual experience. “Reading and discussing Citizen is a compelling student success initiative,” he said, “with the potential to lay the foundation for better informed and more consistent long-term efforts toward realizing change in the service of equity, with humility and empathy.”
He believes President McConnell sensed the urgency of this moment. “We all know that a common read program will not make CSU anti-racist,” he said, “but we hope by laying the foundation for critical discourse across difference facilitated by the selection of Citizen, our campus community will mature in our ability to realize the cultural conditions to live our aspiration of educational equity and social justice.”
Claycomb says Rankine’s book is one of the most powerful he has ever read on the experience of racism. “When I first read Citizen, it completely transformed my perspective. The exquisitely crafted lyric essays in the book caused for me moments of both visceral empathy and thoughtful reflection on the ways that racism and sexism intertwine to create obstacles for Black/African Americans and other people of color.”
He says the idea of common reading programs has its roots in practices that go back hundreds of years with the very idea of a public sphere. “Developing Rams Read at CSU is a way to bring our community together for common conversations around the most important issues of our moment,” he said.
A schedule of Rams Read events is expected to be released later this month.