Local dance studio continues to share happiness

By Linda Pang 

“Come on, Tyler,” Julie Berger calls, walking through the grass to the parking lot. Tyler is sniffing the ground, but moves closer to Berger when she calls. He follows her up the dark wooden stairs of a brick building with a green awning.

“He’s my son,” she says, laughing, and tugs on the leash attached to the small white and grey Shichon. Berger adds that he is three years old and a mix of Bichon Frisé and Shih Tzu. “He’s the studio mascot,” she explains, smiling. “Students ask for him by name!”


In a cozy waiting area, a few women are chatting with each other on wooden benches and a large, red suede couch. The large window that looks into the main dance studio shows a darkened classroom, dimly lit by rope lights, and sounds of a slow pop song wafts through the closed door. Shadowy figures can be seen inside doing cool-down stretches in their fitness class.

Paintings and posters of dancers line the walls. Nearby, a red, fabric-covered table displays tan and black ladies’ latin and ballroom dance shoes with gemstone-covered-heels that sparkle when they catch the light.

Off leash, Tyler roams the waiting area as the previous class finishes. Berger exchanges her sandals for tap shoes, grabs her pink covered laptop, and heads into the studio room, where the adult tap students are waiting.

“Welcome, it’s week one,” Berger says, motioning her students towards the center. The sounds of clicks, clacks, and taps fill the room as they make their way into a circle.

“I’m so excited for this new choreography!” Berger declares. “But first, let’s go around the room and say your name and one fun tap fact to fill the room with good vibes!”

The class of eight women and one man take turns sharing their names and facts, with laughter, cheers, and applause from their classmates. Berger instructs the class to form two lines and face the front floor-to-ceiling mirrors, which are bordered by rope lighting giving off a warm glow beneath the fluorescent overhead lights. She returns to the front of the room to begin warm-up.

“Eight shuffles front, three, four… seven, eight, side…back, now four,” Berger calls out, as she flicks her leg and taps her shoe. “Both feet now to the side… toe, heel, toe, step and clap.”

The faces in the mirror look serious as students concentrate to follow the pattern, watching her feet in the mirror. Click. Clack. Clickity. Clack. Clack. The sounds of 10 pairs of tap shoes moving in unison fill the room and echo off of the walls, mirrors, and smooth tan floors.

“It’s okay to smile and have fun,” Berger says, reminding her students with a laugh.

Berger, 34, is the founder and artistic director of Salsa in the Suburbs Dance Studio in Media, Pa., and her days are filled with both teaching and administrative responsibilities. This past May, the studio celebrated its 10-year anniversary and Berger couldn’t be happier.

The happiness shows as tap class begins wrapping up an hour later with a mini exercise. After each student gets a chance to show-off to applause from their classmates, Berger gathers the group into a circle again with their hands in the center.

“One, two, three…” she calls out.

“Best tap session ever!” shouts the entire group in reply, raising their hands into the air as a team.

After class, Berger quickly checks-in at the desk, while swapping tap shoes for strappy, satin dance shoes with gem-covered heels.

She is multi-tasking: answering questions from a student, chatting with Kim, changing shoes, and instructing her co-teacher for the next class to get the group started. Ryan Morfei, a high school student and the studio’s youngest Latin dance instructor, nods and heads to the studio, calling the intermediate bachata performance students to follow as he walks past.

“Dancers, get into two lines and look ready to warm up!” Berger says, calling out to the dancers as she closes the door. Berger and Morfei take their places in the front of the room, leading the co-ed group of dancers through bachata dance warm-ups.

Berger fell in love with dance at a young age, starting tap classes at age three. As she became more experienced, she started teaching hip-hop and tap lessons at age 14 to classes of eight-year-olds, before teaching tap lessons at a Latin dance studio later on. Berger said although she chose to study theater in college, she wanted to veer back to her first love of performing arts: dance.

Berger added that her first vivid memory of salsa was in a London nightclub, when she was 20 and studying abroad.

“It was mystical,” she says. “I wanted to understand what it was.” Her next vivid experience was in France, when she went to teach English.

“I started the studio because I fell in love with salsa dancing and wanted to share that with everyone,” Berger says. “I felt like I had to share this great secret with the world!”

Her first salsa classes were taught in a small, rented room above a pizza shop.

Today, Salsa in the Suburbs Dance Studio offers a variety of classes for adult students, mostly in the evenings and on weekends, plus special dance socials and workshops. There are Latin dance classes such as salsa, bachata, beginner and intermediate group performance classes, plus fitness classes such as Zumba and yoga. Berger adds that other dance styles, such as ballroom, swing, belly dance, ballet, and burlesque, are available currently through private lessons and half-day workshops.

According to Berger, adult tap has been offered at Salsa in the Suburbs for only the past year, after she finished creating her Latin dance curriculum, a systemized and detailed syllabus for each course from beginner to advanced dancers.

“I’ve videotaped the patterns and trained the teachers so they can all teach it,” Berger says. “It was hard before to take a vacation, now it’s so easy to just go.” She adds that the instructors can also use the videos as reference and, with new instructors to help teach, she was finally able to find an open slot to offer tap classes.

“It’s one of my happiest hours of the week,” Berger exclaims. “My first dance language.”

But Berger admits that there are still daily obstacles and running her own business isn’t always smooth sailing. “Some obstacles right now are figuring out where the company should go,” Berger says, adding that another challenge is setting long-term goals for the company’s growth and future vision.

Back in the classroom, Berger lets Morfei takes the reins as he explains the next section of choreography. At times, the class splits into two groups, based on gender, to work on footwork and arm styling for specific sections, Morfei leading the males.

“It needs to be a cross, step-out, and lunge,” Berger instructs, demonstrating at the same time. She adds choreography and then isolates just the arms for practice.

During the last minutes of a two-hour class, Berger calls out the choreography they have learned while the dancers walk through the steps. The dancers try it twice before she adds the music, encouraging them to try it at regular speed.

“It’s fast!” exclaims a student in surprise as the selection ends.

Berger agrees, reminding them that there are still many weeks until their upcoming performance to get it perfect, as they exit the studio room.

While she is still thankful for finding the current location, Berger adds that she has big dreams for her company. Berger explains that initially she was renting a private space by the hour and is now renting her own space with two studio rooms. “I wanted my own space in Media,” she says. “But I didn’t even know what that meant.” Now that she’s been in the current space for a few years, she says she has an idea.

“Maybe form another studio location or find a place to have a bigger studio” she says, explaining that it would require having a completely full program to fill the studio with classes all day.

“We have a successful daytime yoga program finally,” Berger says. “In the day, you’re really limited to your audience.” She adds that she hopes to fill all of the quiet time, so that she can feel like the studio has truly outgrown its current space, while continuing to pursue its mission of using dance as a “vehicle to enhance and change lives.”

“There’s a quote about if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” Berger explains. “I sometimes wish I could see more friends or have evenings free, but I really love it here. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”

Contact Linda Pang at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu


New Title IX policy sparks firestorm

By Victoria Lavelle

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos foolishly rolled back Title IX guidelines for campus sexual assault, effectively undermining the long-standing protections for young female college students while sweeping allegations of rape and sexual misconduct under the carpet.

In a shocking announcement last month, DeVos revealed plans to review the 2011 Obama-era Title IX policy that spells out a school’s responsibility for handling alleged reports of sexual misconduct. She called the Obama administration policy “a failed system that overtly pushes academic institutions to overreach and doesn’t go far enough to protect those accused” of sexual wrongdoing.

However, DeVos’ recommendation that schools need to do more to protect rapists and sexual predators is un-fathomable and reckless.

new title tori

Alarming statistics in three separate surveys provided by the Rape Abuse National Network, the Washington Post-Kaiser Foundation, and the Association of American Universities (AAU) indicate 20 percent of young female college students are the victims of sexual improprieties, and 23 percent are at risk.

The data collected from the surveys are concrete evidence that the government’s decision to retract the expansion of Title IX protections is a disregard to the well-being of female college students. Turning back the wheel of justice on campus sexual enforcement is equivalent to doing nothing at all, and suggesting that accused rapists and sexual predators need more protections is absurd.

Title IX is a federal law established in 1972 that prohibits sex and gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. Former President Barack Obama expanded the law to protect victims of sexual assault by providing victims and survivors the assurance of a safe campus environment after coming forward with complaints. The expansion called “The Dear Colleague Letter” held campuses in violation of the order accountable by withholding federal funding potentially bringing many Ivy League universities to their knees financially.

On Sept. 22, the Department of Education (DOE) officially nullified Obama’s Title IX policy releasing a temporary outline of recommendations for how schools should respond to reports of sexual violence moving forward. Furthermore, it allows colleges to adopt their own procedures even though DeVos admitted school administrators aren’t experts in lawmaking or law enforcement.

“The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the victim only creates more victims,” DeVos told an invite-only audience at George Mason University. “A better way means we shouldn’t demand anyone to be something they are not. Students, families, and school administrators are generally not lawyers and they’re not judges. We shouldn’t force people to become something they are not just in order for justice to be served, and we need to be more precise in the definition of sexual misconduct.”

The announcement was immediately met with scrutiny by advocates for women’s rights, victims of sexual assault, and survivors who support the previous Title IX policy. Twenty-nine U.S. senators delivered an open letter to the DOE opposing DeVos’ actions and calling her decision “a step in the wrong direction,” considering the nation’s epidemic of campus sexual violence.

Supporters of DeVos’ Title IX changes argue that the previous mandate caused the DOE to place unfair pressure from the federal government upon colleges and universities. They believe those actions from the federal government tilt the scale of campus justice regarding sexual assault cases in the favor of victims by imposing on the rights of the accused.

In fact, a group of professors at Harvard Law School studied the previous policy expansion in 2015 and concluded that the ordinance stripped away “the fair and due process” guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution by restricting the ability for those accused to share a detailed account of their version of the story.

During the new policy roll out, DeVos explained the new guidelines are open for public scrutiny and input, so once again Harvard Law School announced they are starting to review the new federal Title IX guidelines.

Meanwhile, more politicians are weighing in.

“Title IX protections play an important role to ensure the safety of students on college campuses,” Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) expressed in an official statement via email. “As a prosecutor, I saw firsthand the emotional devastation that visits victims of sexual assault. A system must enable victims to establish control over their path to justice and recovery. As importantly, a system must accord appropriate due process to the victim and the accused. It is not always an easy balance to find. Any changes to Title IX guidance should improve – not roll back – efforts to end sexual violence and clarify the obligations of schools. Sexual assault shatters the lives, so there’s more we can do to prevent it on college campuses. I urge Secretary DeVos to keep the victims of sexual assault foremost in her mind as this process unfolds.”

Meehan is right to be concerned.

The Criminal Justice Systems Statistics annual report from 2016 reflects the vast majority of sexual misconduct occurrences go unreported and unpunished. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) annual report found 70 percent of victims who are attacked do not come forward out of mistrust for authorities and fear of shame, blame, and ridicule.

The organization immediately responded to DeVos’ Title IX changes on their website: “We are deeply disappointed in the decision to rescind existing policies on campus sexual violence, as announced today.”

Critics say DeVos Title IX policy provides less clarity for campus authorities to handle accusations of sexual assault in a serious nature, and offers nothing to combat the rising number of sexual crimes reported at colleges and universities.

DeVos’ decision to rescind student protections nationwide set an unsettling tone among the nations collegiate, especially to the one in five female victims and survivors of sexual predators. Her actions are solid proof that she’s clearly more concerned about dissolving protections, rather than shielding victims from sexual assault.

Kourtney Gould, a mathematics and natural science major at DCCC, says the Trump administration needs to stop trying to fix things that aren’t broken.

“For heaven’s sake, wasn’t Trump recorded on a hot microphone bragging about groping women,” asked Gould, recollecting the Access Hollywood tape released in June 2016. “His lewd comments were [an admission of] sexual assault, so it raises serious questions about the motivation behind the Education Department’s sudden changes to our Title IX protections.”

Candice Jackson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations of the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, demonstrated just how unfit and clueless the agency is regarding campus sexual violence. During a N.Y. Times interview, Jackson carelessly insinuated that 90 percent of all college sexual assault accusations are made by drunk or disgruntled ex-girlfriends who got dumped, then six months later come forward to report a crime.

How someone with her level of ignorance finds a way into a federal government agency is beyond comprehension, and it should rattle every American to the core. Even though Jackson later apologized for her flippant remarks, it still leaves little doubt as to why the U.S. Commissions on Civil Rights has launched a two-year investigation into practices at Trump’s Department of Education.

The investigation’s findings will be reported directly to Congress for review in a time when our president is already facing an unprecedented number of probes.

In short, the new guidelines do little to protect a victim’s right to be treated fairly on a college campus after reporting a sexual assault. The accused are now permitted to remain actively enrolled in college, and campus authorities can drag their feet resolving matters until after the accused have graduated.

This puts victims into an uncomfortable and vulnerable postion, likely aimed to discourage them from coming forward to start. The result may be fewer sexual assault complaints annually, but it’s hardly a solution to combat this epidemic that plagues our nations college youth.

Additionally, it permits colleges to return to the days of prioritizing and preserving a college’s reputation over the students victimized by sexual assault.

Though legislation prevention is not a blanket solution to campus sexual violence, it was a step in the right direction to help reduce the staggering number of students who fall prey to rape and non-consensual sexual advancements each year.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration pushes forward on what appears to be a relentless mission to dismantle the equal rights legacy of Obama, without any goal to lower sexual misconduct on college campuses.

In America, we elect our presidents with the hope they will do their best to protect us and represent the very best in us. Trump has perpetuated some of the most disrespectful and disgraceful behaviors towards women, including publicly shaming alleged victims of his own sexual misconduct.

In normal times we would be appalled and outraged, yet we’ve become numb and willing to compromise our American values because, in the Trump-era, instability and oppression have become the status quo.

Contact Victoria Lavelle at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

DCCC celebrates a champion of community college education

By David Schwartz


Loretta Bevilacqua, executive assistant to former DCCC President Jerry Parker, vividly recalled the time Parker and his wife Sue went to a student’s house to deliver a computer.

According to Bevilacqua, there was a surplus sale for computers in the cafeteria one day. After the sale was over, the student expressed disappointment to Parker that she missed the chance to obtain a new computer.

Parker and his wife decided to offer one of their own computers to the student, and went to the student’s house to set it up the next day.

“He was a champion of the college,” Bevilacqua said. “He was so passionate about the college and would do anything for the students. Every decision he made had the school, students, and faculty at the forefront. He’s the kind of person you want to work for.”

Parker, who served as president for 14 years before retiring in July, started working at DCCC in 1977 as an assistant to the vice president for administration.

Prior to becoming the president, he also served as executive assistant to the president, dean of Management Systems, Planning and Enrollment Management, and vice president for Community and Corporate Education.

“When he became president, he offered a lot of freedom to do what you wanted,” said Jeanne Anastasi, former director of Community and Professional Programs.

Among Parker’s achievements as president of the college was the opening of the Advanced Technology Center in 2009, which houses technical programs to prepare students for jobs in the trades.

“Career training is a part of our core mission at DCCC,” Parker said. “That means adapting the curriculum and services around local job demands and business needs. Throughout the years, we met with regional employers and began to build partnerships. We listened. It was through these conversations and partnerships that we were establishing DCCC as the go-to resource for the workforce, and fulfilling careers for the underserved population.”

president 2

To recognize and honor Parker’s commitment to technical education, the college held a dedication ceremony on Oct. 6 to rename the Advanced Technology Center after Parker.

Numerous people spoke about Parker at the ceremony, including current DCCC President Joy Gates Black and Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC) President Gary Smith, emphasizing what Parker has meant to education and training in Delaware and Chester Counties.

Smith told the crowd how Parker wanted to build the bridge between Delaware and Chester Counties and how education and work force development were important throughout his tenure. He was “the pioneer out in [Chester County],” according to Smith.

Under Parker’s leadership, DCCC’s expansion into Chester County began in 1994 with the Chester County Center in West Chester, Pa.

Today, five out of eight campuses are located in Chester County.

“Jerry basically helped me understand the history of the college and how to connect with people in the community,” Gates Black said, remembering her transition into her new role as president. “He helped me become familiar with the area and everybody was so welcoming. I was able to take advantage of it.”

Gates Black wishes to have a photograph of Parker with one of his quotations installed at the entrance of the building at some point in the future.

Parker’s family also attended the ceremony as many faculty and friends complimented him on his successes. At the ceremony, members from the crowd took photos of Parker unveiling the new name, the Jerome S. Parker Advanced Technology Center.

“Not all community colleges had the same vision that [Dr. Parker] had,” former DCCC Provost Dr. Ginny Carter said. “One of his legacies was his commitment to technical education and his commitment to access and opportunity. He had an open door for everyone and would always be available to talk to and follow up.”

Parker was also responsible for the opening of the STEM Center in 2010, which features classrooms and laboratories for science, engineering, and mathematics.

“He was always visionary in the expansion of the college,” Vice Provost Mary Jo Boyer said. “He always had that collaborative nature and was willing to take chances.”

In March, Parker was inducted into the Chester County Business Hall of Fame by the CCEDC for his leadership and lasting relationships with business owners and manufacturers in Delaware and Chester Counties.

“From the beginning, neighboring Chester County was always regarded as a natural extension of the college’s service area, our manifest destiny,” Parker said during the CCEDC Business Achievement Awards dinner in March. “It does mean paying more in tuition to make up for the absence of sponsor taxation, but that hasn’t deterred the 6,000 plus students now attending from all parts of Chester County and for all kinds of reasons, most often to transfer to a four-year college or university.”

Parker received his bachelor’s degree in American studies from Wesleyan University, his masters’ degree in adult education from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and his Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In addition to his responsibilities as president of the college, Parker was a member of the Board of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, the Crozer Keystone Health System Advisory Board, the Chester and Delaware Counties Workforce Investment Boards, the Delaware County Industrial Development Corporation Board, the Delaware County Chief School Administrators, the Delaware County Suburban Study Council, and the Community Action Agency of Delaware County, Inc.

He also served as chair of the Chester Higher Education Council, the Collegiate Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, the Chester County Economic Development Council, and the Riverfront Alliance Board.

In the book, “A Fifty-Year History of Delaware County Community College: 1967- 2017,” Parker wrote that with student success at the core, the school has responded by expanding their services, enhancing the curriculum and facilities, and altering the processes.

According to Parker, without a vigilant, guiding hand, many of the students in the college’s care likely would not endure the demands of an increasingly competitive society.

“[I see the college] continuing the successful collaboration with local employers that will continue to benefit the students, making it easier to achieve their career goals,” Parker said, regarding the direction of DCCC within the next five to 10 years. “The goal is to see students complete their programs, getting them past everyday hurdles and personal constraints that sometimes get in the way of success.”

Contact David Schwartz at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

Make soccer safer

By David Schwartz

Josh Shore, 23, of Newark, Del. has been playing soccer almost his entire life. Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, Shore played for numerous club teams and was captain of his soccer team at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills, Pa.

Throughout his athletic career, Shore has succumbed to multiple concussions. Most of the concussions were from soccer, along with a few from hockey and lacrosse. Officially, he has been diagnosed with eight of them. “I might have had more,” Shore said as he explained his history of concussions.

As he entered his 20’s, his symptoms of concussions persisted over time. By late 2015, he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Prior to being diagnosed, Shore experienced memory loss, anxiety, and random mood swings.

During the fall semester of 2015 at Delaware Technical Community College, Shore had to withdraw to start treatment as soon as possible. “I’ve had to miss school for a week or two at a time,” Shore said. He was also told by his doctor that he would no longer be allowed to play contact sports, including soccer.

Shore is one of many young athletes who is currently dealing with post-concussion syndrome. The U.S. Soccer Federation has been raising awareness on the issue of concussions and how they can affect the lives of players during and after their athletic career.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3.8 million concussions occur in the United States annually through sports and recreational activities, but only 5-10 percent are diagnosed.

According to the CDC, a concussion, which is also called a traumatic brain injury, is caused by a blow to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. The severity of a concussion can range from “mild” to “severe.”

The CDC explains that symptoms include memory loss, headaches, blurry vision, nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to noise, balance problems, anxiety, depression, and irritability. A number of these symptoms will show up right away, but others may not be noticed until days or months after a concussion.

According to the Weill Cornell Concussion and Brain Injury Clinic, symptoms for post-concussion syndrome will include short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, and feeling “slower,” along with the symptoms of a regular concussion. Long-term effects of concussions are still being studied.

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has stated that individuals who continue to report symptoms of a concussion months after the initial brain injury have exhibited emotional distress and poor physical functioning.

In 2014, the Concussion Legacy Foundation helped launch the Safer Soccer Campaign. They stated that their mission is to educate parents and coaches on the benefits of delaying the introduction of headers, which means hitting the ball with your head, until high school.

According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, attempting to head the ball and colliding is the number one risk of concussions in youth soccer, causing more than 30,000 concussions each year. That is nearly one third of all concussions in youth soccer.

In November 2015, U.S. Soccer adopted a series of safety initiatives aimed at addressing concussions in youth soccer, including rules that prohibit players ages ten and under from heading the ball and the reduction of headers in practice for 11 to 13-year-old players.

“These guidelines are a major victory for the Safer Soccer campaign and a fantastic first step in making the world’s most popular sport safer to play for children,” Concussion Legacy Foundation Director Chris Nowinski said. “Together the supporters of the Safer Soccer campaign showed there is widespread support for the elimination of headers for children and U.S. Soccer heard our message.”

Along with the new guidelines in place for youth soccer, the struggles of Shore and many other athletes with post-concussion syndrome are raising awareness in the continued efforts to reduce concussions in organized sports.

After getting the help that he needed, Shore was able to return to school the next year and further pursue his studies.

Shore continues to suffer from symptoms of post-concussion syndrome every day and has missed class on several occasions. He is still taking medication and is being evaluated on a monthly basis.

Although he is not allowed to play contact sports, Shore has learned how to play golf over the last year. He has been playing at various courses with his friends in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania and has been improving his game.

“It sucks not being able to play soccer anymore, but since golf is basically the only sport I can play now, I decided to give it a shot,” Shore said. “It’s helped me feel better.”

Contact David Schwartz at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

College-Wide Reading selection promotes discussion about injustice of mass incarceration

By Linda Pang


Mass incarceration, the lives of prisoners, and criminal justice reform. These are some of the topics that will be covered during this year’s College-Wide Reading Program, featuring Bryan Stevenson’s memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.”

The book shares Stevenson’s experiences during the case of Walter McMillian, weaving personal narratives of other people he met during his 30 years of legal work to help prisoners in a system he says is broken. McMillian was on death row for six years for a murder he didn’t commit. His story is set in Monroeville, Ala., the community which inspired Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“Just Mercy,” a New York Times Best Seller, was the winner of the Carnegie Medal for best nonfiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Cohen Prize for Best Nonfiction; it has appeared on numerous college lists as the required “common reading” selection for incoming freshmen.

During the 2017-18 academic year, College-Wide Reading participants will have the opportunity to attend special events, such as panel discussions, field trips, and film screenings.

The program, open to all students, faculty, and staff, was founded in 2006 as the “One-Book One-College” program. According to its webpage, the program evolved into an initiative supported by the Institutional Diversity Committee (IDC), with the intention to “provide a common reading that encourages thought, discussion, and collaboration at DCCC.” Annually, the IDC selects a book from nominations submitted by the college community that fit the upcoming year’s theme.

JoseFrancisco Mazenett, associate professor of French, Spanish, and humanities, said the book aligns with the college’s learning goals, but the program needs additional support to get students more involved.

“Reading is extremely important to the development of all of our students, regardless of what profession they are going into,” he explained.

Reading professor Valerie Schantz has been using titles from the past eight years with her classes. “They’re not necessarily something they would choose to read, but through our activities and discussions and the college’s support of the text, they found [reading] them to be a positive experience,” she said.

Premisa Kerthi, 24, a liberal arts major from Albania and this year’s Multicultural Club president, learned about the program when she first read Rigoberto González’ memoir “Butterfly Boy,” and subsequently won first place in the program’s student writing contest with her poem “A Mysterious Life.” Kerthi said González spoke with her as if they were old friends at the author luncheon, even getting misty-eyed as he described moments that led to his memoir.

“The sentence I will never forget from him is, ‘Never be afraid to try new things. Just do it,’” said a smiling Kerthi, adding that she is enjoying the characters in “Just Mercy” because Stevenson’s themes of discrimination, immigration, and social work speak to her on a personal level.

Stevenson, a professor of clinical law at NYU School of Law, has won numerous awards, such as the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, and holds 26 honorary degrees from academic institutions across the United States, including the University of Pennsylvania. He also founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which focuses on ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States.

Paul Pat, associate professor of English, said that Stevenson is one of the most important voices in promoting justice. “His book is incredibly timely and my students have been engaged with the many social issues presented in the text,” he explained.

Reference and instruction librarian Eleanor Goldberg added that Stevenson’s stories “put a persona behind the problems,” instead of statistics and demographics. Goldberg served as co-chair of the program with librarian Erica Swenson Danowitz in late 2014, and sole chair from 2015-2017.

Elizabeth Gray, associate professor of English, and new program chair, said that she has read the book a few times already and wishes that the program could get copies into every student’s hands, along with guaranteed author talks.

“One of its strengths is that Stevenson takes on these really big concepts like justice, racial relations, poverty, and economic disadvantages, etcetera, but he does it in a really artful way,” Gray said. “Far-reaching societal issues are viewed through a very personal lens.”

To provide background on complex topics, the DCCC library has provided thematic resources, including interviews with Stevenson and supplemental materials on racism, mass incarceration, and Walter McMillan’s exoneration. Stevenson’s website also includes a Common Core approved teacher’s discussion guide.

English professor Fernando Benavidez is using “Just Mercy” in his composition courses. As an introduction, Benavidez had students respond to two key quotes from Stevenson: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done…” and “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

Benavidez said people tend to regard death row prisoners as only criminals and not as human beings. “I think this book really challenges us and my class, in a good way, to rethink our views of the criminal justice system and the criminals themselves,” he added.

This year’s events have included a Legal Aid panel discussion, “Mercy, Justice, and Redemption: the Local Reality of Stevenson’s work,” on Sept. 28 in the STEM auditorium, moderated by Keeley Mitchell, director of paralegal studies at DCCC.

The event included local experts on criminal defense, parole, re-entry, post-conviction employment, and education behind the walls of correction facilities. Panelists shared their viewpoints on mental health issues, barriers to jobs, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Justice and equality are our goal, but they’re nowhere close to reality,” said panelist Guy Smith, Esq., a criminal defense attorney for the past 50 years.

Alyssa Tino, 22, a liberal arts student and secretary of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, attended the panel with her copy of the book in hand. She said she heard about the program through Campus Life and was able to get one of the free books handed out at the beginning of the semester. Tino said she enjoyed hearing the diverse panel discuss the same issues.

“I feel like the system shouldn’t be so black and white—that if you are this age and have that past record, that it constitutes what you’re going to do with the rest of your life,” Tino added.

On Sept. 29, Benavidez, Gray, and history professor Jeff LaMonica, led 15 students on a school field trip to Eastern State Penitentiary to view the award-winning exhibit “Prisons Today: Mass Incarceration in America.” The trip was sponsored by the College-Wide Reading Program, in partnership with Campus Life.


“I think they got a lot out of it. Just seeing the actual conditions…they didn’t fix it up…rusted bars, broken chairs, cots with no cushions on them, trees growing into the cells,” Benavidez said, adding that students asked their guide complex questions about the architecture and treatment of the prisoners.

Upcoming College-Wide Reading events for “Just Mercy” include a viewing of “Vocabulary of Change: Angela Davis and Tim Wise in Conversation” on Nov. 9 at Marple’s Large Auditorium, followed by a discussion on today’s societal problems, such as institutional racism. Adriana Leela Bohm, associate professor of sociology and co-chair of the IDC, will moderate the event.

English professor David Robson will moderate the Nov. 30 screening of excerpts from the 1915 version of “Birth of a Nation,” guiding discussion about where misconceptions about African Americans and justice started.

“By taking a book and reading it in different classes, students can make connections to themselves, to the text, and to the world,” said Bohm, expressing her excitement for this year’s selection. She echoes Gray’s wishes for the program to have enough funds to give each student a free copy. “It’s important for them to see how inter-connected the world is.”

Contact Linda Pang at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu