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Reading for Reconciliation
November 16, 2005

This fall some 40 Calvin College students are delving into The Kite Runner, a story about boyhood friends in Afghanistan, and maintaining a vital Calvin literary community.

Readers for Reconciliation, a book club entering its fourth year, has already explored a reading list that spans cultures, histories and continents says its founder, while creating a place on campus where important conversations can take place.

Rhodes"I started the program shortly after I started this position," says Jacque Rhodes, Calvin's dean of multicultural student development. "I wanted a creative forum to dialogue about issues of race and class and gender. Reading is one of my all-time favorite pastimes, so I merged two of my passions."

The group began with seven students and two staff members, Rhodes included, and has added members with each added book title.

"Each year, it just grows and grows and grows," Rhodes says.

"People are always amazed that I'm able to get that many students to read a book 'just because,'" Rhodes says, "and I tell them they would be surprised at how many students simply love to read. I'm just tapping into those bookworms like myself."

The group's first assignment was Things We Couldn't Say , the true story of Berendina "Diet" Eman, a young Dutch woman whose work for the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, saved the lives of hundreds of Jews.

"She lives here in Grand Rapids," says Rhodes of the book's heroine. "After we read the book, she came and we met her. You felt like you were truly in the presence of Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King or another amazing historical person - and yet she was this ordinary person."

Eman's visit during that first semester spurred another Readers for Reconciliation tradition, the custom of enhancing the reading with expert speakers and cultural offerings - such as a trip to an art gallery or a special dinner.

Throughout the years, the group's dedicated readers have ventured into missionary life in the Congo viaThe Poisonwood Bible, racism in southern American through Black Like Me, the vicissitudes of life on and off the reservation as told in Black Elk Speaks, the struggles of Mexican immigrants inThe Short, Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez, and the life of a girl in the 1960s south abused by her father and taken in by three adult African American sisters described in The Secret Life of Bees.

Next spring the group will take up Wild Swans, the story of three generations of women from China.

Rhodes enjoys the fact that the group is as diverse as its booklist.

"They're every major, every discipline you can imagine," she says. "They cross disciplines. On campus, off campus. Very multicultural. I don't see another opportunity on campus where you see such a mixture of students."

Two student leader-coordinators, Peter Ippel and Christina Ludema, help to keep Readers for Reconciliation reading along. Their most important chore for the club is to join Rhodes on a long journey of reading and culling titles for the upcoming year.

The three leaders look for a specific kind of book.

"I want a book that can engage students in thinking about race and gender or even class," Rhodes says. "Whatever the atrocity that is going on in that text - because we pick books with conflict - we ask how is it happening around us right now, and how are we responding? I go back to Diet Eman who said to the students that each of them had been called by God to do something extraordinary that may seem very small in their eyes. But in God's eyes, it was very big."

Readers for Reconciliation meets in three groups: On Wednesdays from 11:30- 12:30 p.m. in the Knollcrest Room and on Fridays from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in both the Knollcrest Room and Uppercrust. Contact: Jacque Rhodes at jrhodes@calvin.edu for more information.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson