One Book One Campus

‘Relating to a novel helps us discuss our own experiences’

One book one campus

First started at University College Utrecht (UCU) in 2017, the community-building project One Book One Campus is now being expanded to the entirety of Utrecht University. The project invites staff and students to read the same book together and discuss the main themes it addresses.

The book for this year’s edition, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, was chosen because of its deep connection to topics related to diversity and inclusion: some of the themes explored in the book include feminism, racism, intersectionality, patriarchy, gender, and sexuality. Evaristo narrates the lives of twelve characters spanning several decades, or even centuries, as their experiences intertwine with British history. “It is hard to think of another novel that is both so topical and puts so many different characters of colour in the spotlight”, explains project coordinator Andeweg. The book won the Booker Prize in 2019.

“What I like about it is that some of these characters are students and teachers, which makes it easier for people at the university to relate to them. Evaristo’s writing style is also very rhythmical and flowing, which makes it quite accessible.” The book is available on the University’s webshop at a discounted rate (six euros) for the duration of the project. “We already have hundreds of orders placed for the book, so hopefully there will be plenty of participants in the overall project as well”, hopes Andeweg.

To stimulate conversations around the book and the topic of diversity, One Book One Campus will have Meet & Read events open to everyone, where passages from Evaristo’s novel will be read aloud and discussed. These sessions will take place every working day from October 17 to November 4 at various locations in the university. Participants don’t need to read the novel in advance. “We wanted people to rediscover the added value of social events, of being together, especially after the pandemic.” 

To top it off, Evaristo herself is coming to Utrecht for an evening at the Neude Library on October 31. She will read from her novel and be interviewed by the Dutch-Surinamese writer and TV host Tirsa With about her life and work. Evaristo’s translator and UU alumna Lette Vos will make an appearance, as well as the student  choir Medusa, which is only comprised of women. Tickets are also available in the web shop.

Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo. Photo: Jennie Scott

What else is there to do during Diversity Month?
Utrecht University's Diversity Month started on October 1 with a heap of projects spanning topics like accessibility, inclusion, and equality. Among them is the CAT (Centre of Academic Teaching and Learning) symposium All Inclusive, which will take place on Thursday, October 13 (today), in celebration of the centre's first lustrum. The symposium will include several workshops, such as how to design an inclusive curriculum, how to eliminate racism from the classroom, and how to talk about pronouns. 

Personal level
“UU already does a lot when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This is often about improving policies or procedures”, says Andeweg. “However, we tend to find it difficult to open up about our personal experiences with these topics and I think it is easier to do that by relating to a novel rather than by talking directly about ourselves.” Therefore, the focus of the project is to encourage these discussions on a more personal level: “One Book One Campus is an attempt to make those conversations possible and an invitation to consider and relate to different perspectives,” she concludes.

Asked to talk about her expectations for this year’s edition, Andeweg says she hopes it will “inspire people to see reading as something social rather than a solitary encounter. It really has an added value to read a novel and talking about it in a social setting.”

Andeweg also organised the first edition of the project in 2017, when  UCU students were asked to read a collection of poems by the Poet Laureate at the time,  Carol Ann Duffy: “It was very well received. Many UCU students participated, which is why we decided to expand the project to be university-wide. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that during the pandemic, so we are very excited to see our vision come to life this year.”

In addition to being university-wide, this year’s edition of One Book One Campus includes a creative contest. Aspiring writers and artists are welcome to enter by submitting an original work that engages with Evaristo’s novel. Participants can submit a written piece – such as an essay or a short story – or a visual artwork, like a photograph, video, or drawing. “I hope the contest will allow people to tap into their creative side a little more,”, says Andeweg. “We are really curious to see how creative our community can be.” Submissions can be sent until October 20th to Three winners will have the chance to receive a prize of 50, 100, or 250 euros. They will be announced on the same evening as Evaristo’s lecture at the Neude library.

Third-year Economics student Olimpia already read the book: “I really loved it. The stories felt a bit far from my reality, but it was a good feeling because they confronted me with different perspectives that I wasn’t used to,” she says. “The project as a whole is really interesting: I love that they made the book accessible by lowering the price and that we have the possibility to meet with the author. It is definitely something I would participate in again.”

One book one campus, team 2022

The team 2022