Common Read tells story of Arab, Muslim Americans



By IAN LACK Reporter

A book focusing on the issues of Arab and Muslim Americans has been selected as the 2017 Common Read. The selection was announced April 20 in the Briggs Library by Rebecca Bott-Knutson, interim dean of Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College.

“How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America,” originally published in 2008, tells the stories of seven young Arab and Muslim Americans living in Brooklyn, New York, during the aftermath of 9/11. The novel explores government surveillance and detentions, workplace discrimination and the loss of friends due to the rapid change of the political environment.

Mona El-Gayar, a senior human biology major and president of the SDSU Muslim Cultural Students Association, said she hopes the Common Read selection will “put a focus on the community on campus.”

“People don’t understand what it’s like to defend yourself or defend your faith,” said El-Gayar. “I think that [the Common Read selection] will help people understand how we feel being here and experiencing current events.”

Meagan Irvine Miller served as the representative for the Brookings Human Rights Commission on the common read committee when this book was chosen. 

Miller said the book is relevant because of the new administration in the White House.

“In light of some things that have happened recently, like the temporary ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, I think that it’s going to draw awareness and support for the international community on campus who identify as Muslim,” Miller said.

Moustafa Bayoumi, the author of the Common Read, has previously written about being Muslim American in books such as “This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror.” He is an English professor at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

The SDSU Common Read series began in 2009. According to Bott-Knutson, it was originally designed to “raise the level of academic challenge and enhance students’ understanding of diversity,” among other things.

Other Common Read selections have focused on coping with depression, growing up in poverty as an African American, girls education, and Native American life on a U.S. reservation.

A series of campus events is typically planned for each fall, to coincide with the Common Read in 109 classes, which have been discontinued and changed to optional departmental introductory courses.

The Common Read committee is still in the process of planning these events. But the committee expects to include events which showcase the themes of the 2017 Common Read, PEACE: Perseverance, Exploration, Awareness, Community, and Empathy. The committee also hopes to host a Griffith Honors Forum Lecture from the author himself.

In a change made by the South Dakota Board of Regents earlier this year, 109 classes are no longer required for graduation. However, the Common Read committee believes the book will still be well read among SDSU.

“The SDSU Common Read was developed before the creation of 109 courses and will continue through this transition,” said Bott-Knutson. “I would like to thank the members of the faculty and community who will continue to champion this common, enriching intellectual experience on our campus.”