Staff and Faculty zoom through the pandemic through online meetings and discussions of social issues.

Although many on-campus organizations remain vacant or have stalled their operations, Staff Reads — a reading group at UW Tacoma — continues its mission to bring awareness to issues related to social justice on campus, according to Staff Reads Coordinator, Research Help and Instruction Librarian Johanna Micaela Jacobsen Kiciman.

Created by the Center for Equity and Inclusion, the Library and the Center for Student Involvement, Jacobsen Kiciman said a big part of the beginnings was the collaboration and co-creation with her colleague Alaina Bull, a first year Experience librarian. 

Jacobsen Kiciman said the weekly meetings involve manageable 40-page-reading sections and discussions related to social justice issues prevalent in higher education.

“[It’s] exciting, it’s good stuff because it means that people who don’t normally get to talk to each other do,” Jacobsen Kiciman said. “By interacting with non-fiction texts that discuss different issues being faced in our community, the reading group provides opportunities to dialogue and learn from each other.” 

Jacobsen Kiciman noted additional benefits posed by the program include creating community by reducing isolation and enhancing campus education through peer-based discussion groups.

“One of the big reasons to have this programming is that we recognize the need to talk about issues that we’re facing together as opposed to upholding the silos in the various departments,” she said.

Recently, the group has looked at issues facing undocumented students in higher education. They are also reading “Life of the Mind Interrupted,” by Katie Rose Guest Pryal. The book covers disabilities, mental health issues, accommodations and inequality in higher education and society.

Jacobsen Kiciman noted that the group is adamant about higher academia supporting inequitable conditions for students of underprivileged backgrounds.

“We look at social issues that are affecting the student population so that we, as a staff who are often in student support roles are more equipped to understand our student demographics,” Jacobsen Kiciman said. “Mental health is an issue faced by staff, faculty and students alike, [and] ableism is a problem in modern-day academia we want to work on deconstructing.”

Jacobsen Kiciman said the staff are working to be of better support to the students. She then noted that the learning would work as a vehicle that impacts many students at UWT.

“We have undocumented students at UW Tacoma, and we have one of the nation’s largest detention centers a mile away from our campus,” she explained. “So we as a staff feel very strongly that in picking the readings and the books that we do, we are not only bolstering our own learning but working to be of better support to our students,” Jacobsen Kiciman said. 

She also noted how a space outside of the traditional academic setting could ease group discussions. 

“I think it just shows a need for spaces that are outside of the normal workflow and in that create sort of a shared sense of community,” she said.

As they try to face issues across higher education by staff, faculty and students alike, she stated that their population pool has grown and has co-hosted events with authors to speak on issues for various groups, such as undocumented students in higher education.

“Our participant pool has grown, we were able to over last summer co-host an author talk with the author of a book about undocumented students in higher education, and we had close to 45 folks zooming in for that,” she said. 

She pointed out that this number exceeded their average participation of around 10-12 staff members that attend weekly throughout the quarter. Up next, the group is looking at having more weekly meetings and may do another event with an author as a guest host. 

“This model of inviting authors to talk is really, really exciting,” Jacobsen Kiciman said. “We were able to author last summer, and perhaps that becomes an annual event right to talk to the author of the books.”

Jacobsen Kiciman explained that those employed at UWT, including students, can zoom in on weekly readings, discussion of social issues, and chances at attending annual events or receiving free books depending on funding by emailing her at jmjk@uw.edu, Alaina Bull at alainac@uw.edu, or the CEI Director, Dr. Jimmy McCarty at jwmccar@uw.edu.

A co-organizer for the group, Daniel Nash also serves as the Program Manager for the Ledger but did not have a say in the planning, writing or editing of the article.

If one wishes to request disability accommodations, including American Sign Language interpretation, prospects may contact the Disability Resources for Students office at (253)-692-4508 or drsuwt@uw.edu. 

They may also submit a request at http://www.tacoma.uw.edu/UWTDRS/eventaccess

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