The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Colgate Announces “Poverty, by America” as 2024 Community Reads Pick

Colgate University’s Community Reads Selection Committee announced its book pick for the 2024-2025 school year on Monday, April 1. The committee of 17 members, including various professors, faculty and first-year students chose “Poverty, by America” by Matthew Desmond, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his previous book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” Desmond is also a professor of sociology at Princeton University and a former MacArthur Genius Grant recipient. While the Community Reads pick serves as a reading assignment for incoming first-years, the author is also the first one to visit during the Fall 2024 semester’s Living Writers series, providing opportunities to discuss for all students. 

Associate Professor of History and University Professor for First-Year Seminars Alexander (Xan) Karn, a member of the Community Reads Selection Committee, announced the pick in an email sent to Colgate faculty, staff and students. Karn spoke to how the Community Reads program contributes to Colgate’s style of liberal arts education.

“Self-understanding is one of the overarching goals of a liberal arts education, but this entails putting our ideas and values in conversation with those of others,” Karn said. “The Community Reads [program] aspires to do this in two ways: first, by encouraging engagement with a text which might present something challenging or unfamiliar to the reader and, second, by creating opportunities for exchange and discussion across differences. We don’t all view these texts the same way, but, of course, that’s the beauty of it — a chance to see how our experience compares to others.” 

“Poverty, by America” is a nonfiction book exploring how the United States perpetuates a cycle of poverty and the systems built into everyday life that promote inequality. Karn explained the discussions he hoped would come from reading “Poverty, by America.”

“While this book is engaged with politics, I think Desmond offers a model for how to break through the partisan binaries that stymie creative thinking and problem solving,” Karn said. “Poverty cuts across the red-blue spectrum, so maybe it’s possible to see the fight against poverty as a form of patriotic duty?”

The Community Reads book is sourced from suggestions from students and faculty each year. After the submission period closes, the Community Reads Selection Committee reads the submissions and chooses based on what they feel is most important for the student body to take away. Karn gave insight into the selection process.

“We look closely at 15-20 titles, and we go through several rounds of reading and discussion to winnow the list to three. The committee then votes to rank the finalists and select a winner,” Karn said. “I’m just one vote in this process, but, for me, I’m always looking for a book that is important, engaging and potentially actionable, whether that’s in the form of applicable life lessons or encouragement to effect social change. Having input from students who have just come through the other side of this process is crucial for making these assessments.” 

First-year student August Haston was invited to join the Community Reads Selection Committee. Haston provided context to what the role of the first-years on the committee.

“The other student representatives and myself were chosen to express how the average incoming first-year would feel about each selection. Personally, I love reading and was thrilled to read so many great books,” Haston said.

Haston echoed Karn’s sentiment that Desmond’s book could spur some difficult but necessary conversations.   

“The committee felt it would open up discussion about wealth in America without falling into cynicism or apathy. The goal with the Community Read is to build bridges, not close them,” Haston said. “For me, Desmond’s book was eye-opening, demonstrating how deeply wealth inequality affects the day-to-day in ways we often overlook. I’m excited to see what conversations the selection inspires and I’m optimistic about community growth at Colgate.”

First-year student Annika Hansen was also a part of the committee and reflected positively on her experience.

“The best part was knowing that the reading we did and the conversations we had within the committee could make a positive impact on the Colgate community,” Hansen said. “We looked at a range of texts that reaches everyone and allows the community to engage in deeper and essential conversations.”

All members of the Colgate community are encouraged to read “Poverty, by America” and actively engage in the community discussions surrounding the text, ahead of Desmonds upcoming visit to campus.

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About the Contributor
Emma McCartan
Emma McCartan, Assistant News Editor
Emma McCartan is a sophomore from Guilford, CT majoring in international relations with a minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. She has previously served as a staff writer for the News section. On campus, Emma is involved in Model United Nations.

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