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Grossmont College to Cross-Study "Emperor of All Maladies"

Posted on: May 20, 2013 1:00:00 AM

Contact: Donald Harrison (619) 644-7840

 English professor Tate Hurvitz will lead a common reading project on the Grossmont College campus for the third year in a row this upcoming Fall 2013 semester. Students and faculty members from a variety of academic disciplines will read Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Five other campuses are involved in this project.  In addition to Grossmont College, participating universities are San Diego State University, University of California San Diego, University of San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene College and Cal State San Marcos. The project has been called "One Campus, One Book," but Hurvitz said because multiple campuses are involved the name may be changed.

The books are chosen by representatives from each of the participating colleges, who bring in suggestions and put them up to a vote.

For the first year of the project, students read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,  and read Silent Spring for the 2012-13 school year.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is about how cells were taken from a poor African-American woman who died of cancer.  The cells were used in thousands of medical studies without her or her family’s knowledge. Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, documents the harmful effects of pesticides in the environment.

Emperor of All Maladies examines what it means to be a human with cancer and to be a doctor treating someone with cancer. Mukherjee writes about the origins of the words related to cancer and the history of these words and how they have affected our conceptions of the disease. 

“It gives a very broad perspective on cancer as a disease and its role in our society,” Hurvitz said.

Each campus has its own series of events throughout the year relating to the study of the book.  Grossmont’s events include faculty panels, guest speakers on campus, student debates, and even culinary menus created around each of the books. 

At the regional level, an essay contest open to any student is held. The San Diego Center for Ethics in Science and Technology hosts a free public forum every month at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. The universities and college sponsor one or more of these events throughout the year that will be tied to the book.

At Grossmont College, students in the nursing program will be mandated to read Emperor of All Maladies next semester and 10 faculty members from across campus, from different areas of study, are developing curriculum to be used in their courses based on the book. 

“What we are primed to do for next year is have a lot of students across campus learning about this and engaging with this book from the perspective of the discipline that they are taking a course in,” Hurvitz said.

Hurvitz said one of the exciting things for him is that he does not know what the different professors are going to say about this book.  Students and faculty members will view the book from multiple perspectives.  He added that a major driving force for this project was to bring back cross-disciplinary thinking in an era of specialization.  

Carissa Leigh, an intern in Grossmont College's public information office, researched and wrote this story. 

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