Gabe McGuire ’24
With another year of summer reading events coming to an end, it’s important that the community reflects on the outcomes of their discussion to see what went well, what could improve, and what sets a precedent for future years . To achieve this goal, members of the community share their stories from their discussions, while others give an insight into the background or set up by discussion leaders.
Nina McDowell ‘25 was immediately thrown into a cycle of laborious work and classes, but her Body Talk discussion offered an escape from everyday stressors and responsibilities and the opportunity to share her perceptions of the book. She said, “I was satisfied with the clarity I achieved from my discussion, and my group was great! I had a good senior leader and faculty member who kept it flowing smoothly!” Her words highlight the value of the summer reading experience, especially for a student entering Mercersburg for the first time.
To prepare student leaders for their responsibility in the discussion, summer reading committee members hosted a training session. It may have missed the mark, however. Bob Hollis ‘24, a discussion leader, said, “It did not prepare me realistically enough… It set expectations too high for the group and gave little information on improvisation.” While his experience with the training seemed to prepare leaders for an unlikely experience, it paid off nonetheless. Hollis thoroughly enjoyed his discussion as he was able to reach a more profound level of conversation with his group members.
English department head and writing center director Michelle Poacelli was one of the organizers of the discussion groupings and leader training programs. Considering the sensitivity of the discussion topics this year, she worried in advance about the potential situations that might arise in the discussion groups. The training sought to combat this uncertainty. “[It] was to serve as a dry run for a discussion so a leader could understand how their discussion might unfold,” Poacelli said. It was “worst case scenario” for a reason.
So, Poacelli and other facilitators met with director of diversity Renata Williams and her assistant Leela Woody to brainstorm thought-provoking discussion questions and set safe boundaries for students. This led to the creation of an “opt out” group, ensuring that students who felt unable to sit through the discussions for personal reasons had an alternative.
Not only were students able to read and create responses to emotional issues such as body comfort and systemic racism, but they, along with their discussion leaders, were also able to engage in thought-provoking conversations, setting the bar high for next year’s summer reading experience.