Weeks before the start of classes, first-year students at Trent University had already received their first assignment: read the novel Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and come prepared to discuss it in seminar classes offered during orientation week in September.
The idea, according to the university, was to alleviate students’ anxieties as they prepare to enter their first year of study – and to give them a sense of community – by getting them involved in small discussion groups on a common topic.
“You know how we idealize the university as a community of scholars,” says Gordon Johnston, a professor of English literature and indigenous studies who helped organize the event. “Well, we thought by getting faculty members to volunteer to lead the seminars and talking across disciplinary borders, we could demonstrate that to the students.”
Dr. Johnston estimates about 1,200 students took part in the seminars, which were led by more than two dozen faculty from a wide range of disciplines. Although there was no penalty for not participating, Dr. Johnston says most students understood “it was a part of their week’s activities.”
There were some glitches – some students had not heard of the assignment ahead of time – but the response was generally positive, says Dr. Johnston. “We’re keen to go again next year.”
Three Day Road follows the experiences of two Cree snipers during the First World War and deals with issues of kinship, indigenous culture and identity. Its author, Mr. Boyden, was the Margaret Laurence Writer in Residence at Trent in February 2006 and returned to the university on Sept. 17 to read from his latest novel.