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One Book at a Time

March 29, 2021
Carl Fletcher CoB Student

The ability to engage in civil discussion with someone who has different views, or comes from a different background, seems to have become a lost art on college campuses, and our country in general. People on different sides of issues often turn a deaf ear, or worse, shout down, dismiss, or belittle those who don’t think like they do. Through its robust student reading group program, the Center for Free Enterprise in the College of Business is working to change that disturbing trend, one book at a time.

Each semester the Center offers up to three different reading groups for students who are interested in reading a variety of books, and participating in discussion with their peers. Center faculty facilitate the discussions, but it is the students who take the lead. “It’s really important for students to lead these discussions,” said Steve Gohmann, director of the Center for Free Enterprise. “This isn’t about what I think about a book. It’s an opportunity for students to listen and learn from each other, to develop their own opinions, and maybe hear a different viewpoint they hadn’t considered before.”

And that has brought Carl Fletcher back to participate in a second reading group this spring. “I have learned about many other perspectives, and it really helped me think about economics and politics a lot differently,” said the sophomore Economics and Finance major. “The group has really helped sharpen my communication skills, along with improving my ability to think about other possible perspectives.”

To garner a diverse array of viewpoints and enrich the discussions, the Center encourages students of all majors and grade levels to apply to participate. Junior bioengineering major Katya Kovatsenko, who is back this spring for the fifth time, appreciates the diverse make-up of the groups and the varied conversations that result. “The participants provide refreshing perspectives to different economic topics,” she said.

Gohmann said another goal of the reading groups is to help students hone important skills to enhance their academic careers, as well as life beyond college. “Reading books they might not otherwise read, and discussing them with their peers, helps students develop important critical thinking and listening skills, and those will be important as they leave college and head into their chosen career fields.”

Katya is already using what she has learned through the reading groups in her classes. “Last semester, I participated in a group focused on healthcare. As someone interested in medicine, I have always focused on the scientific issues rather than those in the realm of business, economics, or politics,” said Katya. “However, through the three books of that group, I learned more about the past, present, and future of healthcare and expanded my viewpoint on the business of hospitals and clinics. As a future clinician, I believe that learning about these issues will help me to advocate for an equitable environment for my patients.”

Perhaps most importantly, Gohmann wants to offer students a place where they can feel comfortable expressing their opinions and engaging in open dialog without fear of judgment. Both Katya and Carl agree the reading groups offer just that. “Having the freedom to speak freely about my opinions has been a positive aspect of … the program,” said Katya. Carl added, “When I considered the reading group, I felt that it was crucial to have a safe atmosphere, and I believed that if it wasn’t, then I wouldn’t participate.”

The Center has been hosting student reading groups since its founding in 2015. During the pandemic, students can choose from in-person or virtual meetings. The Center provides all reading materials and meals following discussions free of charge for participants, and those students who meet participation requirements receive a scholarship.

For more information about CFE student reading groups, visit the Center’s website.