(Editor’s note: The full list of summer reading selections at North Carolina colleges appears below.)
The novel assigned to first-year students enrolling at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall is well-written, engaging, funny, and touching. The characters are deep and (mostly) believable. For the book, The Round House, author Louise Erdrich won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction, an award for which she was previously a finalist in 2001.
The subject matter, however, makes The Round House a suspect pick for the Carolina Summer Reading Program, begun in 1999. The book explores numerous themes, including Indian culture and tradition, Catholicism, adolescent mischief and nascent manhood, Indian law and competing jurisdictions, vigilantism, racism, and sexism. However, the book centers on a theme with which UNC-Chapel Hill and American universities as a whole have an intimate relationship—the justice system’s response to rape.
The novel is about a 13-year-old boy of the Ojibwe tribe in North Dakota who, along with his tribal judge father, is dissatisfied with the government’s investigation of his mother’s violent rape. The boy, Joe, conducts his own unofficial investigation and vows to take murderous revenge on the rapist. Pretty heavy stuff, and no trigger warning to boot.
The Round House is not a particularly unbalanced book, although Erdrich does make the wild claim in the afterword that “1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime,” a proportion higher than the age-old false figure that one in four college-aged women is raped. (Erdrich claims the 33 percent figure is “certainly” lower than the actual number.) Also, the narrator derides the “white man” for encroaching on tribal law and sovereignty.
There is an uncomfortable connection between UNC-Chapel Hill’s stance on rape and the novel’s account of the lack of justice in rape cases on Indian reservations. As I recently reported, UNC-Chapel Hill has aggressively responded to criticisms of its handling of sexual assault and other Title IX complaints. The university ramped up efforts after various outlets reported on the case of Landen Gambill, who accused her ex-boyfriend of rape. He was acquitted by the University Hearings Board, an appeals body, and was never charged under the law. Gambill then complained about the university’s response to sexual assault complaints, sparking two federal investigations of the school.
Now, the university is in the midst of crafting a new sexual assault policy, in part thanks to the cries of Gambill and other activists that the current policy is unfair to victims.
This is despite the fact that, as the federal government recommends to all U.S. colleges, Carolina’s policy uses the lowest possible standard—preponderance of the evidence—to declare the accused guilty. Moreover, the accused does not have the right to face the accuser. Nor, at the time of the Gambill case, was the accused allowed to consult with a lawyer, something changed by a North Carolina law in 2013. Notwithstanding that law, a rare win for due process, calls for reform have come almost exclusively from victim advocates.
Unfortunately, that means UNC’s response so far is equally one-sided, as a glimpse at the make-up of the sexual assault task force indicates. The force is made up mostly of campus “diversity” officers and faculty, among other staff members likely to side with accusers.
The Round House may very well be accurate in its portrayal of a broken system in which tribal judges have little power and rape is never prosecuted. But discussions of this book will surely encourage inapplicable parallels between this injustice and supposed injustices corrected by university honor courts, which are too often kangaroo courts that eliminate due process and risk destroying the livelihoods of accused men.
Recent examples of this include Lewis McLeod—a Duke student whose diploma is on hold because of a woman’s accusation that she was drunk when she had sex with McLeod—and an Occidental student who was expelled for mutual drunk sex, even though police had decided there was no basis for charging him.
Like Duke and Occidental, UNC-Chapel Hill is surely under immense pressure from the federal government to show it is doing something about rape; its freshman reading selection appears to be one tiny part of that strategy.
Universities should, of course, discuss controversial ideas, including rape. But UNC-Chapel Hill is forcing its hand in this discussion, to its own detriment. It has pushed programs, events, and departments, hired expensive staff, and created websites devoted to sexual assault response. At a certain point, overkill in the campus conversation runs the risk of cheapening the social issue a university means to address. The term “sexual assault” itself is an embodiment of this phenomenon.
The Round House was published while current UNC Chancellor Carol Folt was the interim provost at Dartmouth College. While there, Folt made sexual assault and gender issues a prominent part of her agenda. For example, in April 2013, she canceled all classes for one day, replacing them with a campus-wide discussion on “respect for individuals, civil and engaged discourse and the value of diverse opinions.” This was in response to a small group of sexual assault student-activists disrupting a student-run performance put on for prospective students, and then pressuring Folt to take action. Before that, the Dartmouth administration had not canceled classes except for bad weather since 1986.
While Folt does not sit on the Book Selection Committee, her subordinates do—and the selection of this book does little to dispel the notion that Folt’s administration has a radical agenda to promote female victimhood and weakening men’s rights.
Men and women starting at UNC in the fall should put on their critical thinking caps in August when it comes time to discuss this novel with their new classmates. If and when the male guilt propaganda comes, they should either fight back or tune out. There will be plenty of real learning to come.
We have compiled a list of the other books assigned to incoming freshmen at North Carolina colleges this summer. Some popular ones: Three schools picked The Other Wes Moore and two each picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and Little Princes. Let us know in the comments what you think about the rest of North Carolina’s 2014 freshman reading picks!
In alphabetical order by school:
- Appalachian State University: Clapton’s Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument, by Allen St. John.
- Barton College: A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash.
- Bennett College: no reading program
- Belmont Abbey College: The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene.
- Cabarrus College of Health Sciences: Josie’s Story, by Sorrel King.
- Campbell University: no reading program
- Catawba College: 2005 Kenyon University Commencement Address, by David Foster Wallace.
- Chowan University: no reading program
- College at Southeastern: no reading program
- Davidson College: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore.
- Duke University: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
- East Carolina University: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore.
- Elizabeth City State University: no reading program
- Elon University: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.
- Fayetteville State University: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore.
- Gardner-Webb University: no reading program
- Greensboro College: no reading program
- High Point University: no reading program
- Johnson & Wales-Charlotte: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.
- Johnson C. Smith University: no reading program
- Lees-McRae College: no reading program
- Lenoir-Rhyne University: no reading program
- Livingstone College: no reading program
- Mars Hill University: no reading program
- Meredith College: The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd.
- Methodist University: no reading program
- Mid-Atlantic Christian University: did not specify
- Montreat College: no reading program
- NC A&T State University: no reading program
- NC Central University: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
- NC State University: Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, by Pamela C. Ronald and R. W. Adamchak.
- NC Wesleyan College: no reading program
- Pfeiffer University: did not respond
- Queens University of Charlotte: The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson.
- Salem College: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow.
- Shaw University: Life Is a Choice: A Guide to Success in Life, by Dr. David Washington.
- St. Andrews Presbyterian College: no reading program
- St. Augustine’s University: did not respond
- UNC Asheville: no reading program
- UNC-Chapel Hill: The Round House, by Louise Erdrich.
- UNC Charlotte: The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers.
- UNC Greensboro: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan.
- UNC Pembroke: no reading program
- UNC School of the Arts: did not respond
- UNC Wilmington: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.
- University of Mount Olive: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan.
- Wake Forest University: Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P.M. Forni.
- Warren Wilson College: no reading program
- Western Carolina University: Serena, by Ron Rash.
- William Peace University: Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, by Edward Humes.
- Wingate University: On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti, by Margaret Trost and Paul Farmer.
- Winston-Salem State University: did not respond