By Joel Bahr | AUGUST 26, 2016
“We seem to be very comfortable,” author Bryan Stevenson has said. “The politics of fear and anger have led us to believe that there are problems, but they’re not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”
While these words hold truth in a myriad of areas, what Stevenson was speaking of in his 2012 TED talk — and what he continues to speak about now — is the American justice system. The failures of that system, many of which Stevenson has seen first-hand, became the basis of his memoir Just Mercy, which is this year’s title for UC Berkeley’s On the Same Page program.
The idea behind On the Same Page is simple: if you give every incoming student at UC Berkeley a copy of the same book, you’re also giving them each something in common. With a school as large and diverse as Berkeley, establishing common ground with classmates can be challenging. On the Same Page tries to ease the process for incoming students — but the fact that this year’s title is both challenging and timely is no accident.
“We want the students to be excited and engaged with UC Berkeley from beginning,” says Alix Schwartz, director of undergraduate academic planning. Schwartz has been an integral part of On the Same Page since its 2007 inception. The first book was Steven Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time.
The program is not only designed to create common ground, but also to stimulate incoming students intellectually. Past works include Hawking, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Freedom’s Orator by Robert Cohen and Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Stevenson’s book, a more thorough investigation of his TED talk “We need to talk about injustice,” seems certain to deliver.
The result of a rigorous selection process — one that includes both faculty and student input — Just Mercy is a topical selection. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and more than 2 million Americans are in prison, with an additional 7 million on parole. Following a summer of turmoil and tragedy, Stevenson’s work speaks to many important issues about policing and incarceration in America.