SJU Reads Selection Brings Diversity Issues to the Forefront

Friday, September 28, 2012

by James R. Sanders '13

SJU Reads, Saint Joseph's community-wide, yearlong reading program brings Dave Eggers' 2009 award-winning non-fiction book Zeitoun to campus. Zeitoun chronicles the plight of a Syrian-born American citizen who chooses to stay in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Interdisciplinary programming for SJU Reads includes a film series, lectures and panel discussions that explore and illuminate topics raised by the book.

Published by McSweeney's, Eggers' own publishing company, Zeitoun won multiple awards, including The New York Times Notable Book of the Year Award (2009) and the American Book Award (2010).

When Hurricane Katrina assaulted the Gulf States seven years ago, it left behind devastation from which many are still trying to recover. With the monster hurricane approaching, Abdulrahman Zeitoun sent his wife and children to Baton Rouge, choosing to ride the storm out to protect his contracting company. Post-Katrina, Zeitoun paddled through the city's flooded neighborhoods to help others who were stranded in the chaos. While checking on business properties, he was arrested with several other men for suspected looting by National Guardsmen and police officers.

Held by captors who mistook him for a terrorist and called him "al-Qaeda" and "Taliban" – presumably because of his ethnicity – Zeitoun was denied medical attention and was unable to communicate with his family who had no idea of his whereabouts. Twenty-three days later, he was finally released after being charged with possession of stolen property; the allegation was later dropped.

SJU Reads is designed to engage the entire campus community in a common reading experience that features the Ignatian value of social justice. Accordingly, Zeitoun sheds light on several important aspects of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath that touch on this theme. "It's such a compelling, fast-paced read, but it also highlights so many issues – civil liberties, criminal justice, racism, the Muslim-American experience post-9/11, the environment and global climate change," says Library Director Evelyn Minick.

Copies of Zeitoun were mailed to all first-year students during the summer. Resident assistants, orientation leaders and faculty who were facilitating discussions during freshman orientation, or who planned to use Zeitoun in class, also received books. The library has many copies available for circulation, as well as on the e-readers it circulates.

Floods and Faith: A Film Series for SJU Reads kicked-off on Sept. 19 with "Trouble the Water," a documentary about residents of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward who coped with the hurricane and the manmade obstacles complicating their return and recovery. The next two films are scheduled as follows:

  • "Mine," a film about the efforts of displaced pet owners to locate and reunite with their animal companions will be shown on Oct. 14.
  • "Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football," a documentary about how a predominantly Arab-American high school football team from suburban Detroit deals with challenges both on and off the field, will be shown on Nov. 17.

All screenings will take place at 7 p.m. in the Forum Theatre of Campion Student Center. The remaining three films will be announced in the spring semester.

The lecture series started on Sept. 18 with Why The Gulf Coast Matters- the Ignatian Response to Katrina. Jocelyn Sideco, co-founder of Contemplatives in Action, along with SJU students who went on an immersion trip to the Gulf Coast, presented the lecture. On Thursday, Nov. 8, at 11:30 a.m., Umeyye Isra Yazicioglu, Ph.D., assistant professor of Islamic studies at Saint Joseph's, will introduce Mucahit Bilici, assistant professor of sociology at John Jay College, CUNY, who will deliver Homeland Insecurity: The Arab and Muslim American Experience since 9/11 in the Forum Theater, Campion Student Center. Two lectures are currently being planned for the spring semester.

A panel discussion focusing on future weather is planned for the spring semester. Titled Hurricanes, Floods, Blizzards and Droughts: Is this Global Climate Change?, it features Heidi Cullen, Chief Climatologist at Climate Central, and Saint Joseph's faculty members Johnathan Fingerut, Ph.D. and Clint Springer, Ph.D., assistant professors of biology. The discussion will be held in the Wolfington Teletorium, Mandeville Hall on Thursday, March 14, 2013, at 11:30 a.m.

A second discussion on racial profiling is being planned for the spring semester.

For more information about SJU Reads, visit

Expand this section