College Announces Common Reading

By Emi Estelle '11

Now that Mount Holyoke College has graduated its 174th class, things are gearing up on campus for the next class of yellow sphinxes.

Members of the incoming class of 2015--and other members of the campus community--will be reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s most recent book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, this summer as part of the annual Common Reading. 

Released in 2009 to rave reviews, Half the Sky focuses on global gender inequality and violence, as well as how individual men and women can contribute to ending this oppression.

Mount Holyoke's first-year students have taken part in a Common Reading as part of the College's orientation program for more than a decade, receiving copies of the selected book during the summer and participating in discussions after their arrival on campus. The reading helps new students make the transition into the College community by connecting them with other students and to the intellectual life of the campus. Faculty members are encouraged to incorporate the book into their courses. 

Previous common readings have included Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (2009), Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (2008), Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (2007), Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains (2006), Ruth L. Ozeki's My Year of Meats (2005), and Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2004). 

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, Mount Holyoke's most recent commencement speaker, reviewed Half the Sky for the New York Times and applauded Kristof and WuDunn’s contributions to awareness about women’s rights around the globe.

“[Kristof and WuDunn] argue that the struggle for gender equality is ‘the paramount moral challenge’ of our era,” she wrote. 

The authors won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for international reporting and their coverage of the democracy movement and the Tiananmen Square protests in China. The couple also received a Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2009. They were the first married couple to receive a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, and WuDunn was the first Asian American to receive a Pulitzer Prize in any category. In the March 2011 issue of Newsweek magazine, WuDunn appeared on a list of the “150 Women Who Shake the World.” 

Kavita Ramdas ’85, senior advisor for the Global Fund for Women and Mount Holyoke College alumna and trustee, will be on campus to discuss the book with students and faculty members on Thursday, September 8. 

In a 2010 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Ramdas called Half the Sky“ an absorbing narrative of stories never heard.” Kristof and WuDunn share the stories of women around the world who are struggling with and standing up to oppression. Ramdas concludes, “It is critical that the message we take away from this book is not simply horror at the epidemic of global gender violence and injustice. Half the Sky reminds us that women also hold solutions to our world’s greatest challenges.”