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Project Wake: Exploring Difference, Embracing Diversity

Wake Forest has a long tradition of engaging in a summer academic project, and including in Orientation time for students to engage with a faculty or staff member over an issue of intellectual and social importance.  This year, Project Wake will explore issues of difference and diversity.  Although we are often drawn to similarity, the ability to understand and appreciate different perspectives, different experiences, and different ways of being is essential to a healthy and vibrant Wake Forest community, to your education and development, and to your future success in a world where you will have to collaborate and problem-solve with people very different from yourself.

Several faculty and staff members have enthusiastically volunteered to lead a book discussion group that explores issues of understanding difference and diversity.   Below you will find descriptions of the discussion groups from which you can choose that has been provided by the leaders.  If you choose to participate, you will read the book for your chosen group over the summer and meet for a discussion once on campus.  All but two discussion groups will meet on Sunday afternoon of Orientation (August 23, 3:30-5 pm; the exceptions are noted in the description and will meet on Saturday, August 29 at 2 pm).

Participation, which is optional, will introduce to you the vibrant intellectual discussion we value at Wake Forest and also give you the opportunity to get to know one of our wonderful WFU faculty or staff members in a small group setting.  You might even discover a professor or campus program with whom you’ll want to get further acquainted after Orientation.

Once you have looked over all of the options for Project Wake, signup by clicking the hyperlinked title or image for your chosen option by July 17. Then, order your book and read away!

If purchasing the book would create a financial hardship for you, please contact Dean Buchanan ( about the possibility of obtaining financial assistance.

If you find that your first-choice discussion group is full, we encourage you to sign up for an alternative.  There are so many options, we hope that several will be of interest to you!


A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind

Discussion leader: Mr. Adam Dovico, Education

In the fall of 2001, as a sophomore at Wake Forest, I took Dr. Baker’s EDU 201: Educational Policy and Practice course.  In this class I was introduced to Cedric Jennings, more specifically, his story documented in A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind.  As a student, this book opened my eyes to the inequities and disparities in schools and education throughout our country.  Cedric’s imposing journey from a failing inner-city Washington, DC high school to the Ivy Leagues leaves the reader inspired, motivated to make a change.  After reading the book, my class was determined to do more, and we did when we brought Cedric to campus to share his story with the Wake Forest community.  Almost fifteen years later, after spending over a decade teaching in K-12 education and now as a clinical professor in the Department of Education, I am excited to share and discuss this provocative story with you, hoping that you will be left wanting to make a positive impact during your time at Wake Forest.


Gray Mountain, by John Grishamgrisham_mountain

Discussion leader: Dr. Leah McCoy, Education

This book is set in western Virginia and the main character is a young attorney. The book follows her experiences with issues surrounding coal mine families in Appalachia, including, poverty, health, and environmentalism.  I am excited about discussing this book because I am a native West Virginian and these are the social and economic issues facing Appalachia today.  I teach Mathematics Education and Research in the Education Department at Wake Forest.





Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Discussion leader: Dr. Simone Caron, History

This award-winning novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deals with race and identity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. This book portrays the variance in definitions of race that incoming students will find eye opening.  Her blogs within the novel, written from the perspective of a Non-American Black, will be especially rich material to analyze in a group discussion.  I am a historian who teaches classes on Gender, Race and Class; American Medical history; and US political, economic and social history since 1850.  This novel fits well with my teaching and research interests in race and gender in American history.






Sacred Ground:  Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, by Eboo Patel (Section 2)

Discussion leader: Rev. Tim Auman, University Chaplain

In this prophetic and thought-provoking book, Eboo Patel speaks to the necessary work that must be done to support, strengthen, and promote religious pluralism in the United States.  In the introduction, he quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, a nineteenth century visitor to our country:  “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” It’s up to this generation of emerging adults, writes Patel, to make sure that observation is still true.  I believe that pluralism is under attack, and religious and spiritual practitioners of all faith traditions must play their part in building a ‘beloved community for all people,’ both at Wake Forest and around the world.

As the University Chaplain, my responsibility is to coordinate educational programs on moral, ethical, religious, and spiritual issues and offer weekly opportunities for reflection/prayer/ meditation.  I also act as liaison to religious groups on campus, in the City of Winston-Salem, and beyond.  I am a certified spiritual director who enjoys the holy curiosity that is at the heart of the major questions common to people at every age and stage of their lives.  Why are we here?  How shall we live our lives?  Where are we going?  What does it mean to love our neighbor?  I am particularly eager to help students accept that they are worthy of love just as they are. In an increasingly busy world, I believe that students should be grounded by a deep sense of belonging and guided by a resilient spirit.

Eboo Patel’s book reflects the bridge-building work of the Office of the Chaplain as we seek to deepen and enrich religious diversity and to bring fruition to the ideal expressed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. that religious pluralism is about finding a way to live together peacefully in this world with people who have different religious and philosophical perspectives than we do.


Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth

Discussion leader:  Dr. Jake Ruddiman, History

A beautiful and unsettling historical novel of the Atlantic slave trade. The book follows William Kemp, a failing merchant who pins his last hope to a slave ship; his son whose love of a rich young woman demands a fortune; and his nephew, a broken man who has lost all he has loved, who sails as the ship’s doctor. The voyage meets disaster when disease spreads among the slaves and the captain’s cruel response provokes a mutiny. Joining together, the sailors and the slaves set up a secret, utopian society in the wilderness of Florida, awaiting the vengeance of the single-minded, fortune-hunting young Kemp. It’s a fresh and vivid take on sea-stories, colonial adventures, and Jane Austen-style romances. Unsworth weaves an unforgettable world of power, domination, greed, and resistance. It opens a window to examine difference across time and space, race, culture, and social class, and the perspectives of men and women.  As a historian of colonial and revolutionary America, I’ve never read anything quite like this amazing book; it is a thought-provoking, enthralling masterpiece. I can’t wait to read it again and I’d love to hear what you think of it – let’s discuss!”


Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar

Discussion leader:  Dr. JK Curry, Theatre & Dance

I invite incoming students to join me for a discussion of the play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar. Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Disgraced is a highly provocative play about stereotypes of religious and ethnic identity in contemporary America. It grapples with competing ideas of Muslim identity. The Pulitzer citation calls it “a moving play that depicts a successful corporate lawyer painfully forced to consider why he has for so long camouflaged his Pakistani Muslim heritage.” The play invites us to consider social forces which make some identity positions difficult to occupy.

I enjoy discussing plays, especially ones which challenge us to reexamine our assumptions and habitual ways of viewing the world.


Talking to Strangers, by Danielle Allen

 Discussion leader: Dr. Alessandra Von Burg, Communication

Talking to Strangers revisits an important time in American history and education, Brown vs Board of Education, and invites us to reflect on the need to engage those like and unlike us. The book explores differences through the concept of trust, or lack thereof, among strangers. Allen talks about friendship as a possible political model to encourage citizens to go beyond living “side-by-side without touching.” The book also presents a unique approach to the role of young people as citizens.

The book is about how we engage each other as citizens and the ways in which everyday interactions, among strangers, as well as friends, define the larger political and societal institutions. Using the example of the infamous encounter between Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, Allen argues that their picture made visible the disintegration of the public sphere, in a way that prompted an urgent discussion of our “basic habits of interaction.” Allen believes that ordinary habits make us who we are as citizens and encourages us to reflect on the meaning of citizenship, offering suggestions to engage strangers as if they were friends.

I am an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication. I teach courses in rhetorical and political theory, citizenship, democracy, and mobility. I love Talking to Strangers because it is about building trust with those we do not know and taking a risk with those we may deem different, at least when we first meet them. The themes of the book are at the heart of my research on new modes of citizenship based on participation and dialogue.


Everything that Rises Must Converge: Stories (1965), by Flannery O’Connor

Discussion leader: Dr. Melissa Jenkins, English

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was a Southern woman writer whose life and writings exemplified difference. She kept peacocks as pets. She suffered from lupus, a disease that deformed her body and left her, at times, in great pain. She remained unmarried. She was a devout Catholic living in a heavily Protestant Southern community. She also wrote provocative short stories about race, gender, and religion during some of the most volatile moments in American history. Students in this discussion group will read selected stories from Everything that Rises Must Converge, O’Connor’s second short story collection, published posthumously in 1965. The stories will interest students who find themselves grappling with the many categories of difference that intersected with O’Connor’s life and writing: religious, regional, racial, medical, and gendered. Our discussion will center on four stories in the collection: “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” “Greenleaf,” “The Lame Shall Enter First,” and “Judgment Day.”



Quiet, by Susan Cain

Discussion leader: Dr. James Raper, Director of the University Counseling Center

Introverts can get a bad rap in our society. They can be classified only as “shy”, and because of the different ways their strengths manifest, can be overlooked.  Introverts themselves can also miss opportunities to build on their strengths, thinking they need to behave, think, and speak more like extroverts.  Coming into college is a perfect time to continue our exploration of ourselves and how we interact with those around us.  Quiet, by Susan Cain, is an excellent book that challenges many misconceptions about introverts.  Cain uses real life examples from everyday people, and supports her message with science.  Our group discussion of this book will allow us to explore where each of us lies on the Introversion-Extroversion continuum, further identify and process our own strengths and preferences, and learn how to value our own and others’ differences. This discussion should be a great spring-board into your first semester.

I (an introvert!) am the Director of the University Counseling Center, and spend most of my time at WFU helping students understand their relationship with themselves and those around them.


Think Like a Freak, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Discussion leader: Dr. Al Rives, Chemistry

This book attempts to examine non-obvious approaches to problem solving. The book isn’t valuable for the solutions to the problems it discusses, but, rather, for the processes it outlines for approaching problems.  Solving problems in any discipline or situation has, at its core, the need to understand all the important relationships among the various variables.  A successful student or leader needs to be willing to search for, and uncover, these relationships. Your ability to do this may be enhanced by reading Think Like a Freak.

I am a teaching faculty member in the Chemistry department. The fun part of being a chemist is finding relationships among the properties of materials.  The more you know, the better suited you are to finding these relationships, but you also need to be open to looking where others haven’t looked or where others have said it wasn’t worth looking.  I am inspired by the creativity and insights of the authors and the people they talk about.  You may be inspired too, and it may affect your thinking.


Accidents of Providence, by Stacia Brown

Discussion leader: Dr. Tom Frank, History

Rachel Lockyer is pregnant, and the father of the baby cannot marry her. Not only is he married to someone else, but now he is imprisoned for treason. The tides of political change are sweeping 17th century England as Cromwell rules the land, but in the absence of a king a kind of religious absolutism is taking control of the justice system. Rachel faces shame for being pregnant out of wedlock, and then death when her infant’s body is found buried in the woods. In her novel Accidents of Providence author Stacia Brown vividly confronts the reader with the aching dilemmas of everyday life and longing, freedom and responsibility, law and grace, gender and justice — but in a time and place very different from our own. I am fascinated with this book not only because Stacia Brown is a master of historical fiction, and not only because I am an American religious historian; but because as a historian I often find myself struggling to imagine what it was like to live in a different era — even as I recognize there the timeless human struggle for dignity, faith, fulfillment, and love.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirzig

Discussion leader: Dr. Jerf Friedenberg, Theatre & Dance

We live in a word that aspires to best practices, to combine science and art, where (subjective) style is as important as (objective) function. This is inextricably woven into our work, our play, all areas of our lives. This book (ZMM) is the story of a summer motorcycle trip by a father and son but it is also a reflection on how we perceive and judge the value of these seemingly conflicting aspects in our world. The author reflects on value (Quality) in Academia, in parenting, in technology, and in culture, and explores our perceptions of sanity, education, perception, and the questions we must each answer for ourselves as we live our lives.

I teach theatre which is s discipline that has a very pragmatic view of technology but strong feelings about communicating “values” to audiences. I confess to coming of age when this book was published and so the tension between technology and art was very real and hotly debated among my group of friends. The discussion itself, the act of reflecting on these issues and articulating them, of bouncing ideas of each other, helped each of us to decide on careers and life choices. I think it is good to pause every once in a while and reflect on what we really believe, whether that is a popular and shared belief or not, and actively decide the direction of our lives.


Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers, by Amir D. Aczel

Discussion leader: Dr. David John, Computer Science

The invention of numbers is one of the greatest achievements of humankind, evidenced by their acceptance into all facets of everyday life.  The number zero was an abstraction that came relatively late in the history of numerology.  Its discovery had a significant impact on ideas.  The book Finding Zero is an account of the author’s modern day journey to find the first use of this significant zero.  As readers we are brought along on a historical, archaeological, spiritual and personal quest that leads to many different, and likely unsuspected, places.  I look forward to the book discussion guided by our individual quests.

I am a Professor of Computer Science.  I teach courses ranging from introductory to graduate level computer sciences courses.  I also have a very strong background in mathematics.




The Book of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon

Discussion leader, Dr. Sue Rupp, History

A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Book of My Lives is a memoir published in 2014 by the writer Aleksandar Hemon, who came to Chicago in his mid-twenties just before the outbreak of the bloody civil war in Bosnia separated Hemon from his family and his earlier life in Sarajevo.  In this work, the author wrestles with the American experience, in a work praised by Jonathan Safran Foer as “written with the full force of humanity.  It will make you think, laugh, cry, and remember yourself…prepare to have your worldview deepened.”  An NPR review of the book remarked of Hemon, a recipient of the Macarthur Foundation “genius” grant, that “he is not only a remarkably talented writer but also one of the great social observers, a cultural anthropologist who seems at home everywhere and nowhere and who balances despair with hope, anger with humor.”

I have been teaching Russian and East European history at Wake Forest for over twenty years.





All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Discussion leader: Dr. Debbie Newsome, Counseling

I am excited about leading a book club discussion about Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See. This beautifully written book describes the intersection of two lives during World War II. Marie-Laurie is a blind young woman from France, which later becomes occupied by Germany. Werner is an orphan from Germany who is recruited into the Nazi forces. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laurie and Werner, Doer illuminates the ways, against all odd, people try to be good to each other. According to the Los Angeles Times, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill.”

The novel describes how two diverse individuals—one a blind French young woman and the other a German Nazi who has doubts about Hitler’s regime—experience life in very different ways and yet their lives converge when core values come into play. I am looking forward to leading a discussion of All the Light We Cannot See because when I first read it, I was struck by the author’s rich character descriptions and his depiction of the Hitler regime. I was equally intrigued by his illustration of how two people from different backgrounds and on opposite sides of the war can come together and display goodness in the midst of horror.

I am an associate professor in the department of counseling at WFU. I teach graduate students who are pursuing degrees in counseling. My interest in “what makes people tick” coincides with my interest in counseling. Moreover, I am a big fan of metaphors, and Anthony Doerr is a master of metaphors, as illustrated in All the Light We Cannot See.




The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

Discussion leader: Dr. Christy Buchanan, Psychology and Office of the Dean of the College

This fictionalized story of the real-life Sarah Grimke gives an eye-opening and compelling view into the lives of slave owners and slaves in the 1800s.  It provides insight into the experiences of those whose lottery of birth made them slave owners and those whose lottery of birth made them slaves. It also tells the story of the development of a girl into a young adult who struggled between society’s messages about the rights and privileges of different individuals and what her conscience told her.  It is an inspirational story of a young woman who stood for what she believed in despite the personal costs, and made a difference for human rights in the United States.

I am a Professor of Psychology who teaches and studies developmental psychology.  I am also the Associate Dean for Academic Advising.  You’ve heard from me many times this summer, and I look forward to meeting a few of you for a great discussion of a wonderful and thought-provoking book.


Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel, by Helen Oyeyemi

Discussion leader: Dr. Erica Still, English

An adaptation of the classic Snow White story set in 1950s Massachusetts, Oyeyemi’s novel raises questions about identity, race, vanity, and perception. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, By transforming ‘Snow White’ into a tale that hinges on race and cultural ideas about beauty — the danger of mirrors indeed — Oyeyemi finds a new, raw power in the classic. In her hands, the story is about secrets and lies, mothers and daughters, lost sisters and the impossibility of seeing oneself or being seen in a brutally racist world… [Oyeyemi] elegantly and inventively turns a classic fairy tale inside out.”  Students interested in the ways in which outside pressures shape our understanding–of ourselves, our families, and our society–will find a chance to explore these pressing issues through this novel.

As a professor in the English Department, I spend most of my time reading, writing, and talking about the ways that literature helps us think about important social (and personal) issues. In particular, I focus on African American literature and representations of race, masculinity, and family. I am eager to discuss Boy, Snow, Bird because it provides a chance to talk about how we negotiate social, familial, and personal expectations as we attempt to forge a satisfying sense of identity.


Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, by Marie Gottschalk

Discussion leader: Dr. Omaar Hena, English

**Please note that the special Time for this discussion group is Saturday, August 29, 2 pm**

This book will expose students to the rise of prison-culture in the US in a comparative/global context.  This book can expand students’ understanding of diverse life experiences because it is about the relation between prisons, inequality, and race, but also explains these changes in the context of white Americans and class.

I graduated from Wake Forest in 1995 and am now an assistant professor in the Department of English. I teach courses on globalization in world literature and poetry. Currently, I have been working on new classes and research on questions of violence in literature: I look forward to discussing questions of mass incarceration and social justice with first-year students in the fall.



This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, by Naomi Klein

Discussion leader: Mr. Justin Catanoso, Journalism

Of all the great issues facing humanity, none is more pressing, dramatic or polarizing than climate change and the global will required to cope with it effectively. The diversity of opinion about this issue splits not only along political lines in the United States, but also among developed nations and developing nations, wealthy populations and poor populations, northern latitudes and southern latitudes. Deploying thorough reporting and compelling storytelling, Naomi Klein argues that the very system that has enabled mankind to prosper — capitalism and the fossil-fuel economy — is now imperiling the health of the earth. That understanding, she argues, “changes everything” — everything about how we look at global economies, how we look at consumerism, and how we grapple with what needs to change to head off the worst possible impacts of global warming in the coming generation.

As the director of journalism, and an active environmental journalist who reports on the impact of climate change in the tropics, I have found Klein’s book to be incredibly powerful, insightful and most importantly, readable. We are a campus that is becoming more engaged in the process of increasing our sustainability when it comes to energy, food and recycling, while reducing our carbon footprint. Reading and discussing Klein’s book will provide a valuable framework for how new students view such issues on our campus and out in the world.


Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

Discussion leaders: Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Politics and International Affairs and The Pro Humanitate Institute (PHI); Ms. Shelley Sizemore, and Ms. Marianne Magjuka, The Pro Humanitate Institute (PHI)

Join us for some serious scrabble competition and a robust discussion of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist! Bad Feminist is a smart, fun and important contribution to contemporary feminist debates. This series of essays deals with everything from her love of Sweet Valley High Books, to her domination of Scrabble tournaments, to her survival of sexual assault, to her challenges as a young, black woman college professor.  Gay playfully crosses the borders between pop culture consumer and critic, between serious academic and lighthearted sister-girl, between despair and optimism, between good and bad. This is the text for those of everybody who is interested in gender equality and also determined to remain true to themselves rather than being subsumed by stereotypes and assumptions. This is a book that can make you feel both more powerful and more vulnerable, which is just right for a college experience. So if you want to learn about being a bad feminist, join our PHI summer reading group. Plus, we will play Scrabble while we talk and eat! What could be better?


Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder

Discussion leaders: Dr. Mary Gerardy and Ms. Norma-May Isakow, The Pro Humanitate Institute (PHI)

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.” — Dr. Paul Farmer

Are you interested in international development and humanitarianism?  Do you wonder how to make a difference in the world?  Join us as we discuss the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his groundbreaking work with Partners in Health in Haiti.  Farmer’s story, as told by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Tracy Kidder, takes us from Harvard to Haiti and beyond as he pursues his calling to cure infectious diseases and bring life-saving medical care to poor communities.  Farmer acknowledges that real change takes time and patience, yet he never gives up.  Today Partners in Health employs over three thousand staff members at nine sites in Haiti including four hospitals with operating rooms.  AIDS is now under control in certain areas of Haiti as well.  Farmer has turned his attention to improving health care in Rwanda and in other countries around the world.  Do you believe that Farmer’s model is sustainable?  Do you admire his dedication to and passion for providing quality healthcare to the poor?  Do you think that other models for healthcare might be more effective?  We hope to have a lively discussion around global engagement and specifically Farmer’s work.  Hopefully our discussion will inspire you but also touch on some of the challenges of international engagement. We will have refreshments and look forward to sharing with you.


The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Discussion leader: Dr. Patricia Dos Santos, Chemistry

**Please note that the special Time for this discussion group is Saturday, August 29, 2 pm**

This historical account describes the source of the HeLa cells. Henrietta Lacks was an African American, tobacco farmer, who had a sample of her tumor cells removed without her permission and disseminated throughout the scientific community. The HeLa cells have enabled innumerous scientific discoveries in the last 60 years including over 60,000 publications. Through her research, the author unraveled the ethical, racial, scientific, and spiritual implications of the HeLa cells and its importance to the Lacks family and our society. For a commentary about this book, please check its review on the New York Times.

I’m a faculty member in the chemistry department. Although I do not use directly HeLa cell in my research in microbial biochemistry, I have indirectly benefited from the scientific progress made possible by the research performed in HeLa. I hope to discuss with incoming and continuing students these historical facts and moral implications of indiscriminate and unregulated use of personal and genetic information for the advancement of science.