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Dawn Remmers and Laurin Porter

The University launched two programs this fall—Conversations and OneBook—to encourage a campuswide dialogue on the many facets of power. Jim Patterson spoke with English Professor Laurin Porter, right, and Dawn Remmers, director of University Advising and Student Success, co-chairs of the Conversations team of faculty, staff and students. For more information, visit and

Dawn Remmers and Laurin Porter

What is Conversations?
Porter: Conversations is designed to engage the entire campus community in discussions focused on a single issue. This year the issue is power. We want to explore the nature of power, its distribution, use and abuse. We picked this theme from our common reading experience with freshmen, a new initiative called OneBook. The book we selected is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

What is OneBook?
Remmers: The tagline of our Web site is, “All freshmen have at least one thing in common.” That one thing is reading the same book. At freshman orientation, all students were given a free copy of The Kite Runner. They’ll use this book in their English 1301 courses as well as in freshman seminars and, hopefully, in discussions at lunch and late-night conversations in the residence halls. So all of these students who come to campus not knowing each other, not necessarily having anything in common, will share this book as the focus of their first year.

Why did you choose power as the theme?
Porter: The Kite Runner covers a wide range of themes and issues—class, ethnic and religious differences; gender issues; guilt; betrayal; father-son relationships; friendship. We decided on power because it was the broadest theme, the one that would be most applicable to different disciplines across the University. We also thought it had the potential to generate meaningful, meaty discussions.

Tell us about The Kite Runner.
Porter: The Kite Runner is about the friendship of two young boys living in Afghanistan in the early 1970s, right before the Russian invasion. Amir, the protagonist and narrator, is rich and privileged, a Pashtun. Hassan, his friend and the son of his father’s servant, is a Hazara, a member of the scorned underclass. The novel begins with Amir as an adult, now a successful writer living in San Francisco, looking back on a critical moment in his childhood when he was 12 years old and, as he puts it, his life changed forever. It traces the friendship of Amir and Hassan up to this critical juncture, as well as Amir’s relationship with his cold and somewhat distant father, whose love he desperately wants to win. We gradually learn what happened between Amir and Hassan at that moment years ago—I don’t want to give away too much—and we watch as Amir returns as an adult to Afghanistan, now controlled by the ruthless Taliban regime, to try to put things right.

How did this program come about?
Porter: This all began when the president and the provost approached Dawn and me and asked us to look into the idea of a common reading experience. We went to a conference in Atlanta on the freshman experience, attended a workshop on common reading experiences and spoke with faculty and staff from across the country who were engaged in these programs. Learning from that, we put together a book selection committee of faculty, staff and students. Over the next six weeks, we read a lot of books, narrowing our choices to nine, then three, and finally one. We chose The Kite Runner because it involves a period and an area of the world very important in today’s news. We felt our students would benefit from a close study of another culture. We also felt that students would identify with Amir, a young man discovering his own identity. We thought it would speak to them in a very personal way. 

How prevalent are these programs at other universities?
Remmers: This is a relatively common program on many campuses throughout the nation. It helps initiate freshmen into the campus community and introduces them to academic discourse. Many of them come from high schools where they have not gotten to talk with people from very diverse backgrounds. This gives them something in common, something to discuss, and introduces them to a campus where people listen to and learn from others with different points of view.

Why did you select The Kite Runner?
Porter: We wanted to encourage students to read for the sake of reading, to open up new ideas and new windows to the world. We wanted to select a book that we, the committee, found to be a “page turner,” a book that was hard for us to put down. It was important to us that the book, while challenging, was also engaging—a good read. This book has been on the best-seller list for many months and has gotten enthusiastic reviews from some of the most respected critics. We think this is the perfect book to introduce this program. 

How can alumni get involved?
Remmers: We would encourage alumni in the area to go to the UT Arlington Bookstore, where they can buy the book at a 30 percent discount. We have many activities and events planned around the book and the power theme that we hope our Metroplex alums will attend if they can. There’s also a wealth of information about the book, the author and Afghani history and culture on our Web site. We’ll also have an online book discussion.

What other events are planned in connection with the program?
Porter: There will be a brown bag lecture series on alternate Fridays throughout the academic year. Faculty members from departments across the University will address issues of power from their own disciplinary perspective. We have a political science professor lecturing on power and foreign policy issues and another from criminal justice talking about homeland security. A nursing professor’s topic is “Patient Power: What It Is and How You Get It.” The dean of education is speaking about the power of education, and our provost, Dana Dunn, is lecturing on “Gender and Power.” The Theatre Arts Department is calling its 2006-07 season “Power Plays,” and all the productions will deal with issues of power. The history department’s annual Webb Lectures will focus on slavery, a condition defined by those who have power and those who don’t.

Are there plans to continue the program?
Porter: We want to stress that this is not just a one-year program. We’re going to continue doing this every year. There’s a form at for the University community to suggest a theme for next year’s OneBook experience.

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