2021 Three Books theme – perspective, empathy and hope
The Three Books Program, a cherished tradition at Stanford, invites new undergraduate students to participate in a common, shared intellectual experience. This year’s program features two memoirs, a film, a National Public Radio podcast and a TED Talk.
Stanford has selected two memoirs, a film, a National Public Radio podcast and a TED talk for this year’s Three Books Program, and invited incoming first-year and new transfer students to come together as a community to discuss the works during New Student Orientation.
The selections are Know My Name: A Memoir, by Chanel Miller; Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover; Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, a film adaptation of a play by Anna Deavere Smith; “Empathy Gym,” a podcast featuring Jamil Zaki, associate professor of psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences; and “Danger of a Single Story,” a TED Talk by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Later this summer, Stanford faculty and staff will host online chats for first-year and new transfer students about Know My Name, Educated and Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education.
During New Student Orientation, Miller, Smith and Zaki, author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in Fractured World, will take part in an in-person panel discussion on campus – a gathering limited to first-year and new transfer students.
In a Thursday letter to new students, Dr. Shashank V. Joshi, a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and education at the School of Medicine, said the theme that unites the works – perspective, empathy and hope – are timeless and deserve further attention today.
“It is precisely as our country and world face new social, medical, political and economic problems that we see that the need for education, reflection and scholarship is as important as ever,” he wrote. “This world needs us to learn how to come together, discuss deeply and bring our critical minds to bear on the most troubling problems of our time.”
In his letter, Joshi addressed the selection of Know My Name, in which Miller recounts the experience of reclaiming her name, her identity and her life in the aftermath of a sexual assault that occurred at Stanford in 2015.
“While Stanford, and most other universities, still struggle to prevent sexual assault and adequately support survivors, Chanel’s story and the court case of her assailant led to a campus-wide conversation on the issue that led to many important improvements,” Joshi wrote. “After consulting with numerous students and faculty on our campus, the Three Books Selection Committee [made up of faculty, students and staff] deemed it important to share this powerful and profound work because this assault occurred on our campus by a former Stanford student.”
Joshi noted that the themes raised by some of the works may be uncomfortable, intense and potentially connect to past personal trauma experienced by students. He emphasized that students are not required to take part in the program. If issues do arise, he said there are numerous people on and off campus available to help support students, and included a list of resources at the end of the letter.
Joshi hopes new students will arrive on campus full of ideas and questions.
“As we emerge from the first part of the pandemic and face an uncertain short-term future, we believe the power of shared experiences is more important than ever,” he wrote. “As entering members of the campus community, we invite you to join this conversation, to reflect on your actions and to ponder the best way to address these issues at Stanford and around the world.”
The works selected for this year’s Three Books Program:
- Know My Name is a memoir by Chanel Miller, who describes the experience of reclaiming her name, identity and life in the aftermath of a sexual assault on the Stanford campus in 2015. Known as “Emily Doe” during the trial of her assailant, she read a survivor impact statement that was shared 11 million times in four days.
- Educated is a memoir by Tara Westover, who was raised in rural Idaho by a survivalist Mormon family. She paints a picture of her family life containing all the complications of ardent religious practice, physical abuse, family expectations and her personal coming-of-age.
- Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education is a film adaptation of a play by Anna Deavere Smith that explores America’s “school-to-prison pipeline,” the process by which children and teens from poor communities and communities of color are suspended and expelled from school more often than their white counterparts, and these expulsions are frequently linked to incarceration at an early age. The content for the film is based on interviews conducted by Smith with more than 250 individuals from around the country, including teachers, lawyers, activists, incarcerated youth, law enforcement and others.
- “Empathy Gym” is a Hidden Brain Series podcast featuring Jamil Zaki, an associate professor of psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences, who shares emerging research, including experiments from his lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait – something we’re born with or not – but a skill that can be strengthened through effort.
- In the TED Talk, “Danger of a Single Story,” Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses her own life as a poignant example of how we risk missing the whole truth when we accept singular stories to guide our thinking. She challenges listeners to reimagine what we do with existing stereotypes, assumptions and narratives.
All of the works are available online to students on a password-protected website.