UT's Life of the Mind book selection, "The Accidental Asian," is set to spark discussion amongst freshmen about ethnic identification and what it means to be American, among other themes.
The collection of essays and short memoirs, published by author Eric Liu in 1998, has been critically praised by major reviewers from the "New York Times" Book Review and "Time" magazine. The work has also been generally well received by the newest crop of fledgling Vols.
Freshman Nate Choi found himself identifying with some of the work's themes.
"It's a good book and I like it," he said. "Being a second generation Asian-American myself, I can relate to a couple things the author writes about."
Choi believes the work may have been chosen due to its unique providing of a cultural perspective that can admittedly be underrepresented in the South.
"Being in Knoxville, the Asian population is a bit low. Maybe that's why they chose it?" he speculated. "Or to bring awareness of discrimination and racism, not just of Asians, but other cultures as well? I'm not sure."
Fellow Freshman Sarah Walden thinks the book was chosen introduce students to concepts of diversity.
"I think UT chose this book because they wanted to open up dialogue about people being different from each other and that being totally okay," she said. "I think college is going to be a lot different from high school because not only are the things that set you apart and make you different accepted here, they're celebrated. I think people are going to be a lot more open minded in college than maybe some where in school — they should be!"
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Martin hopes the Life of the Mind committee's selection will get students talking about what it means to be a member of the stars and stripes.
"In what President John F. Kennedy once called a nation of immigrants, questions remain: Is 'Americaness' something one is or does? What do our multicultural identities — African-American, Asian-American, Chinese-American, etc. say about how we make sense of ourselves and the world around us?"
Although Choi, like many freshman, could understand and appreciate the importance of the themes in the book, he nevertheless questioned its status as a mandatory read for all Freshmen.
"I think freshmen should not have to read a summer reading book," he said. "I thought I was done with summer reading when I graduated."
Choi can admittedly understand the school's rationale for assigning the book, however.
"They want to keep our minds in a state where they when classes start our brains won't be completely mush," he said.
Freshman nursing major Savannah Cox thinks UT had other intentions when mandating the reading of the "Accidental Asian."
"I think they wanted everyone to have something in common right off the bat," she said. "They wanted everyone to have a common interest, if you can call it that."
Cox doesn't believe she will make any fast friends with people solely over shared opinions of Liu's writing.
"That's a bit silly, but I suppose they will break us up into discussion groups," she said. "It's such a big school, it's a good thing to let people get to know each other on a smaller, more personal basis."
Whatever UT's intention in assigning the work, it is sure to be a platform for discussion amongst freshmen as school returns this month.