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Alfred University ‘Human Library’ facilitates candid discussions about diverse perspectives

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Alfred University senior Neil Peters (right) is an open book at Wednesday’s Human Library event at Alfred University, discussing his life experiences with readers Tim Nichols (center), associate professor of education, and Rob Price (left), writer in the Office of Marketing and Communications

ALFRED, NY – Alfred University’s Herrick Library on Wednesday (March 29) offered visitors a chance to read a different kind of book—one which helped them learn about other people’s unique experiences and break down prejudices and stereotypes.

The “Human Library,” a program which originated in Denmark in 2000, was presented at Herrick Library as part of the Alfred University President’s Committee on Diversity (PCoD) campus discussions initiative. Twelve students, faculty, and staff volunteered to serve as “books,” to whom visitors, or “readers,” would ask questions. The answers would reflect the book volunteers’ personal experiences and provide the readers unique insights into people different from them.

“You may not encounter a person like one of the books you will read today,” said Beth Johnson, associate professor of psychology and a PCoD member. “This gives you that opportunity.”

For nearly an hour, readers sat with “human books,” asking them questions such as, “What is it you wish people understood about your perspective?”; “What is something people wouldn’t know about your story just by looking at your cover?”; and “How could our community better support you?”

Angie Taylor, chief diversity officer, PCoD co-chair, and a co-organizer (along with student Brian Ngatunga ’24, PCoD co-chair) said volunteers were solicited to serve as “books,” with an effort made to have as diverse a group as possible making up the human library.

“We wanted different experiences and perspectives represented,” Taylor said. “We had men and women, student-athletes, veterans, faculty and staff, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The goal of the program “is to just have people in a space where it’s a learning experience, a sharing experience,” Taylor explained, noting that both books and readers benefitted from the interaction.

“It’s an opportunity to share and to learn. This leads to breaking stereotypes and putting people in a space they’re comfortable in, a friendly environment.”

Taylor said events like the Human Library will be offered regularly through the President’s Committee on Diversity. Wednesday’s event was the second of three parts of a series of conversations offered by the PCoD aimed at promoting an inclusive and accepting campus environment. One March 15, “The Importance of Having Difficult Conversations” was held, during which attendees learned about the importance of being willing to engage in difficult discussions and the role that plays in fostering inclusivity and acceptance.

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