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Was the first-year text as engaging as Baruch faculty hoped?

Every year, the incoming freshmen at Baruch College are assigned a text, a book to read to prepare them for college and enhance their intellectual skills. This book is also used to bring the students together and is discussed in the First-Year Seminar class that is mandated for every freshman.

A committee consisting of Baruch faculty comes together every year to pick a book. Factors such as the story’s teachings, the complexity of the text and the characters themselves are all considered when a selection is made. This year, the committee chose The Island at the Center of the World, a historical nonfiction novel written by acclaimed Baruch professor Russell Shorto.

The book is about the impact the Dutch colonies had on Manhattan when they colonized it as New Amsterdam. It follows the narrative of two men, Peter Stuyvesant and Adriaen van der Donck, and what they believed the future of Manhattan Island would be.

According to a soft data survey conducted by The Ticker asking students about their opinions regarding the book, the incoming freshmen had mixed responses. The survey was posted on the “Baruch College Class of 2022 (OFFICIAL)” Facebook page.

Of the responses received, the majority of students either did not read or finish the book. The survey, however, is not exhaustive and does not reflect the views of the entire class.

The survey asked what the students thought about the book, whether they thought it was relevant and why they liked or disliked it. Among the students who read the book, most did not enjoy it.

Many students who attempted to read the book and then gave up said they found the book boring and irrelevant. One student who attempted to read the book said, “I read up to chapter 5, but it was still dreadful. I’m not used to these dense books, and I think most of the class would agree. It was very difficult to understand how the book related to us, especially as students.”

One student who enjoys history and read the book also questioned its relevance. The student said, “As someone who likes history and is new to the city, it was an interesting book in terms of learning the historical significance. But why did I have to read it if we didn’t do anything with it?”

Another student said, “Because of the context and time period of the story, it was difficult to place myself in the shoes of these characters and follow along their journey. I understood it was about Manhattan and the area around our college campus, but it did not relate to the prespective (sic) of the everyday student.”

There were some students who indicated they had read and thoroughly enjoyed the book. One student said they enjoyed the “historical aspects of the book and learned a lot about the history of Americas.”

Another freshman who enjoyed the book said, “I didn’t finish it yet, though I still intend to, but I really enjoyed it. I found it very interesting and it was definitely relevant to living in NYC and to some of the classes I’m taking.”

Nudrat Kadir, a peer mentor who teaches First-Year Seminar, said that out of 15 students on Convocation Day, only one had read the entire book in her class.

She said the student was interested in history, which is why the book appealed to him. “The other students didn’t hold the same interest which is why they didn’t like the book or connect with it,” she said.

Kadir also said that a portion of her class did not have the book which is why some did not read it. Those students said they did not receive it because they attended the earlier orientations when the book was not yet given out.

The incoming students’ survey results and honest responses shed an interesting light on what Baruch students may not be looking for in their summer text.

September 13, 2018

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Sheron Virani


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