September 14, 2018, by htaylor
The Nottingham Reading Programme 2018/19
By Zoe Trodd and Andrew Winter
Launched in 2015 and initially supported by Impact: the Nottingham Campaign, the Nottingham Reading Programme was designed as another way outside of the traditional welcome activities to provide students with a conversational ice-breaker as they settled into their accommodation. Through the shared experience of recreational reading, supported by reading groups in libraries, the objective was to provide an alternative way of building a sense of community among new students.
Beginning with The Great Gatsby and running through The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Brave New World in subsequent years, the programme was well-liked. However, it was under developed as a community-building activity, and the “programme” aspect felt like it needed specific attention.
When choosing future texts, we needed to provide more opportunities for engagement rather than simply handing out the book. We want the Nottingham Reading Programme to be about more than just the text. We want a programme where the book is simply the doorway to a broader range of activities and opportunities.
This year, we’ve partnered with the Rights Lab for this year’s book – Slave: The true story of a girl’s lost childhood and her fight for survival. Telling the story of a Sudanese girl’s capture, enslavement, and ultimate escape in London in the early 2000s, the book is an insight into just one kind of slavery that unfortunately still exists within modern society.
University is a time for transition
Why choose to partner with the Rights Lab? Our previous books have been established classics of fiction. Slave is a first-person non-fiction account of someone’s lived experience. Why shift gears in such a way?
To answer that question, we need to consider another: What is the purpose of a University? It’s a huge subject and not one that is possible to answer in one blog post. But if we look at a one part of the answer, we can get some way towards understanding why we feel it is important to develop the reading programme.
We know that students come to University looking to expand their academic knowledge. But more than that happens in the time they spend with us. Talk to anyone who has had any involvement with a University education and they will recognise the experience is as much about the learning outside of the classroom as the learning inside of it.
For some, university is a bridge between childhood and adulthood. For all, it is the change from one state to a new state. It’s a time of discovery – an opportunity to meet new people, explore new possibilities, and expand your horizons. As an institution that prides itself on our global reach and our diverse student population, we need to do all that we can to ensure that during this time students learn as much as they can about themselves and about what it is to be a positive and productive part of a diverse, global community.
Slavery is not just a historical problem
There are an estimated 40 million slaves alive in the world today. The University has recognised the importance of this issue through the creation of the Rights Lab. One of the six Beacons of Excellence, the Rights Lab responds to the fact that the global anti-slavery effort is nearly 20 years old and a commitment to end slavery by 2030 is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (target 8.7), but we lack long-term, robust, evidence-based strategies for abolition. The Rights Lab has therefore built the world’s first large-scale research platform for ending slavery to tackle this key challenge of global development and what the Prime Minister has called “the greatest human rights issue of our time”.
The largest group of modern slavery scholars in the world, and home to the world’s leading academic experts on modern slavery, the Rights Lab’s team of more than 100 academics on campus is answering four main questions:
- How many slaves exist in the world and where are they?
- Why does slavery persist?
- What works to end slavery?
- What difference does freedom from slavery make to the world?
The Rights Lab and its leadership believe that slavery finally teeters on the brink of extinction. By delivering a new agenda designed around cutting-edge methods and the agency of slavery survivors, and by scaling up breakthroughs to become global research-led strategies, we can push it over the edge.
Partnering with the Rights Lab has meant immediate access to an existing and continuously developing set of initiatives and projects. The expanded programme of supporting activities that has been put together for the Reading Programme includes talks from academics and survivors of slavery, film screenings, workshops, and photography exhibitions amongst other events. And we’re hoping this will grow. We’ve already contacted all schools across the University to ask how they think they might link their academic disciplines to the topic of modern slavery and we’re really interested in what new suggestions might emerge as a result of this.
A challenging subject
We understand that this book tackles a challenging subject – but we shouldn’t be afraid to confront difficult subjects. Whilst media narratives raise panic about the suppression of freedom of speech on campus, the reality is that universities have always been and remain places for debate. They are places where we should be challenging our students to broaden their understanding of the planet that they live on and take responsibility for changing it for the better.
For some, they are already in that place – taking part in student groups like Anti-Slavery Society or the Environment and Social Justice network. For some it might never be something that they take an interest in. But for others, it may just be that by providing this window into the subject, this opportunity to join our battle against slavery, we present them with their first step towards changing the world.
By reading this book and engaging with the programme we hope to welcome new students into our University community so that they can feel settled in a place where we push to address those challenges that face the world, and where, through interaction with those we may not have met before, we discover more about others but also about more about ourselves. This year we will do that by engaging students in the University’s important work to help end global slavery. The University of Nottingham and our students can play a key role in what will be a watershed moment – when the world finally rejects the great lie of history, that some people are sub-human, and embraces the great anti-slavery truth: that labour must not be forced and that people are not for sale.
What support is available?
There is content in the book that some students might find distressing. We have taken steps to ensure that there is signposting to the many welfare support mechanisms we have within the institution for anyone who is affected by any of the issues raised. From wardens and tutors in halls, through Welfare Officers in School, to specialist services like our Counselling and Mental Health Advisory teams, Nottingham has a huge array of support available for students to help them have the best possible experience they can during their studies.
How to get involved
To find out how to get involved, visit the Nottingham Reading Programme website.