First–Year Students to Share Summer Reading: A Book About Stereotypes

Claude Steele's book about stereotypes is the choice for Smith's summer reading program for first year students

For new students, the summer before their first year at Smith is a time for anticipation, reflection—and some quiet time with a good book.

imgresThis summer, first–year students will read Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by social psychologist Claude Steele, as part of the college’s 15-year-old summer reading program. Steele will visit campus on August 30 to deliver a lecture at 7 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall.

The aim of the reading program is to help students connect early with peers with whom they will spend much of the next four years. Incoming students are asked to purchase and read the chosen book prior to arriving on campus for orientation. Once there, they discuss the book in small groups led by a faculty or staff member.

Jane Stangl, dean of the first year class, said this year’s reading committee has “high hopes” for Whistling Vivaldi.

“The committee perused nearly a dozen different books” before choosing Steele’s work and arranging for his reading on campus, she said.

“We were moved by Dr. Steele’s ability to present a complex social issue through the lens of research,” Stangl said. “His thought process and the resulting research offer students a wonderful model of the experimental process—something many of our students will encounter in their own work while at Smith.”

Steele’s book explores how stereotypes can influence behavior and performance and how, left unexamined, they carry on unabated. The title refers to an example from the book: the experience of a young black man who realizes that he can defuse the fears of white people by whistling melodies from Antonio Vivaldi.

In his book, Steele—a former professor at Stanford University who is now executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley—offers a vivid first–person account that supports his conclusions on stereotypes and identity and lays out a plan for reshaping American identities.

Past summer reading selections at Smith have included The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Atonement by Ian McEwan and My Year of Meats by Smith alumna Ruth Ozeki ’80.