Campus-wide book read: A challenge to become engaged



You have a great idea for a campus event. Now what do you do? You dive in, create a plan, look for the perfect timing and advertise for good attendance.

Susan Nieberle, alumnae relations director at Mount Mary College, did those very things to make the campus-wide book read a reality. “I wanted to start a book club for quite some time… conversations between the student affairs and the alumnae office had been taking place for about six months. We thought this would be a great joint project to engage students and alums,” Nieberle said. “But we needed the perfect timing.”

Little did Nieberle know that the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy would transform her idea into reality.

Mount Mary began to plan a commemoration for Sept. 11; the ultimate event was a presentation by a 9/11 widow, Susan Retik, entitled “Beyond the 11th: From Tragedy to Transformation.” Retik is a recognized leader for reaching out and offering hope, education and skills to Afghan widows affected by war and terrorism.

Nieberle was in contact with Retik, helping to prepare for her visit, when she began to look for a book to match Retik’s mission. “I said to Susan, in preparation for your arrival, what would be the one book that would set the table for your arrival?” Retik’s response was “without a doubt, ‘Half the Sky.’”

“Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn spotlights the dehumanizing conditions of women in Asia, Africa and in the Middle East. In many places around the world, women do not have a voice; are viewed as non-essential, sexual objects subjected to brutality; are sold into prostitution; suffer from rape and genital mutilation; or are left to die from a difficult childbirth. After telling the stories of individual women, Kristof and WuDunn highlight organizations making a difference, offering a resource listing for people who want to be involved.

“This timing was perfect,” Nieberle said. With four forums scheduled and faculty prepared as facilitators, email announcements and flyers were distributed when the time came for discussion. Representation of the current student body was minimal. Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth, chair of the philosophy department, was a discussion facilitator. “There were five of us [at my session] … some alums, faculty and administrators … it was a really small group,” Dragseth said.

There are a number of possible reasons why student participation was low.

Danielle Walker reading

Danielle Walker is enjoying the current book selected for the campus book club, "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Photo by JAMMIE SCHRAB.

Perhaps it was the varying schedules of students on campus, announcements not read, or the notion that there is not enough time for extracurricular activities during the semester. To read a book and discuss it takes time, for both students and faculty.

Ann Angel, assistant professor of English, chose to be part of the campus-wide book read. “I chose to take on the extra preparation because I have hope that I might ignite the passion to step up for the rights of women and children in even one student, alum or colleague … If we continue to ignore the issue, or we decide we’re too busy for this, we’re refusing to make a positive difference,” Angel said.

Nieberle plans to host another discussion of “Half the Sky” On Dec. 1, but her challenge to the Mount Mary campus is this: “A minimum of 20 students must attend.”

The campus-wide book read will continue to be an ongoing event. The focus of the book selection will change. Nieberle would like the event to occur semi-annually. The first book was a work of non-fiction that is mission-driven; the second book will be work of popular fiction.

Will you be one of the 20 engaged?

“Half the Sky” is available in the Mount Mary bookstore at 20 percent off. To participate in the Dec. 1 discussion, RSVP – “Half the Sky” to Amy Danielson, director of student engagement, at

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