For your reading list: Half the Sky

By Kate Smith, CLAS ’12

halftheskyAfter considering more than 60 nominations, the UConn Reads selection committee has chosen Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide as the first book in the campus-wide reading program. Written by husband-wife duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, both Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, the book highlights oppression and marginalization of women and girls in the developing world.

UConn Reads is a new program that asks the UConn community to read a specific book to foster stimulating, intellectual campus-wide conversations. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and all other members of the UConn community are encouraged to participate. The book will be available for purchase at the UConn Co-op and discussions will be held periodically during the spring semester.

“Our UConn Reads steering committee has worked closely for several months to sift through the many nominations we received,” says University President Susan Herbst. “Their selection is certain not only to spark intellectual debate across our community, but also to take readers on a journey into a culture that few Americans see. I look forward to reading Half the Sky and seeing how it will challenge our campus to discuss and evaluate human rights on a global scale.”

Half the Sky forces its readers to view global gender inequality as a human rights violation, a concept not widely accepted in all parts of the world. Focusing on sex trafficking, maternal health, sexual violence and women’s education, Kristof and WuDunn portray graphically how individual women overcame their oppression – or didn’t – and discuss what can be done to create a hopeful future for those not as fortunate.

The authors also challenge the misconception that men are the sole cause of gender inequality in the developing world, showing that often both men and women participate in the perpetuation of this problem.

Committee members hope that the book will not only encourage involvement, but also focus attention on those whose efforts already support the goals advocated in Half the Sky.

“I am so thrilled with the selection of this important book that we believe will instill a sense of concern, outrage, and action in our UConn community about the plight of women and girls of poverty across our globe,” says Sally Reis, chair of the steering committee and vice provost for academic administration. “The campus book project will draw us together more powerfully as the intellectual, diverse community we are.”

Elizabeth Cracco, a committee member and associate director of Counseling and Mental Health Services on campus, says the book is a “call to arms” for its audience.

“The book presents a call to action,” says Cracco, who previously spent three years as the program coordinator at the UConn Women’s Center. “It offers important cautionary stories highlighting that good intention alone is not sufficient for effective change in the developing world. As UConn focuses on global initiatives, this book brings our consideration of women’s rights to a global level.”

Half the Sky was among four finalists that the committee considered. Others were A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, and The State Boy’s Rebellion by Michael D’Antonio.

Discussions of Half the Sky will be held throughout the spring semester. Here’s how alumni can participate.

Kate Smith is the undergraduate student member of the reading selection committee and a writer for CLAS Today.

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