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Cheesy, but true: You can’t judge a book by its cover

Through the required summer reading selection, group discussions, and a presentation titled “Faces of America,” Lehigh’s first-year students learned a valuable lesson about the pitfalls of jumping to conclusions.

All incoming students were required to read Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking by author Malcolm Gladwell before they arrived on South Mountain last month. As a follow-up, they attended a Sept. 4 presentation of “Faces of America,” a show featuring one female performer who assumed the role of nine characters to provoke discussions on the issues of race, sexual orientation, class and gender.

Each of the characters portrayed was of a different ethnic background, and each shared his or her unique, rewarding and sometimes challenging experiences of living in America.

The show at Baker Hall was derived solely from interviews and workshops held throughout the country. It included portrayals of a Latino who wanted to overcome negative stereotypes, a Filipino female doctor who was frequently mistaken for a nurse, and a mixed-race lesbian who encountered prejudice in several areas of her life.

Blink opened the door for deep discussions on the issues related to diversity, says Lori Bolden McClaind, assistant dean of Lehigh’s First-Year Experience.

“We were very intentional in wanting to select a book that allowed for those discussions and we thought that Blink was an ideal book for that,” says McClaind, who worked with a Book Selection Committee that included students, faculty and staff.

Earlier, the committee established criteria for the book selection that included relevance to the student community and society, broad appeal, broad perspective, and key opportunities for student engagement through the book themes and in the follow-up discussions.

A key component of first-year orientation, the summer reading program helps students make a smooth transition into college life by encouraging them to be active participants in their academic experiences and to exercise critical thinking skills, McClaind says.

“It also simply helps the first-year students make connections with others in the Lehigh community,” she adds. “And it does this by further infusing academic and intellectual elements in the overall orientation experience.”

Across the campus, book discussion groups that further examined the themes in Blink were led by 57 orientation leaders, four orientation coordinators, and 44 faculty and staff members.

“Our volunteer orientation leaders are very motivated and enthusiastic students—sophomores to seniors, with all different backgrounds and majors—who have really bonded as a result of this experience,” McClaind says. “They’ve done excellent work.”

For first-year engineering student Alexandra Miller ’12, the message of the “Face of America” presentation clearly built on the lessons contained in Blink.

“They are both about your first look at someone and the assumptions you make from their appearance,” she says.

For fellow first-year student Armando Berdiel, a business major from San Juan, Puerto Rico, the presentation underscored the importance of keeping an open mind.

“It’s cheesy, but don’t judge a book by its cover,” Berdiel says. “Judge by actions, not looks.”

In addition to the Office of the First-Year Experience, the “Faces of America” event was also sponsored by the Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs, Leadership Lehigh and the Women’s Center.

-- Lauren Martiello


Posted on Friday, September 12, 2008

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