UMass Learning Communities

Anna Branch speaking in front of a room

Learning Communities Book Groups center around “What if I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People” by Vernā Myers, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” by Brene Brown, and "How to be an Antiracist" by Ibram X Kendi. Books will be provided to participants for free, and accessible versions of the books are available via UMass Libraries or the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Throughout the semester, participants will meet regularly to recognize challenges and develop tools for more thoughtful interaction across difference, and understand how our attempts at finding connections and building communities can also lead to polarization. These foundational concepts and skills are vital in our road to building an inclusive community grounded in dignity and respect.

Spring 2020 book groups are currently in progress and we will update you when fall 2020 groups launch.

Let us know you are interested in joining

The Goal:

Help students, faculty, and staff improve communication across differences and create positive relationships with others in the UMass community.

The Challenge:

We come from diverse backgrounds and experiences that lead to varying levels of comfort and ability to interact thoughtfully across difference. Poor interactions can be very harmful, and worries about being misinterpreted can make interactions stressful. These concerns can keep individuals from engaging with others who don’t share their background or lead to miscommunication when they do.

The Plan:

Book discussion groups will be spaces to help individuals develop skills and unpack challenges to respectful community by enabling participants to practice thoughtful interaction across difference with these books as a guide.

"What If I Say The Wrong Thing?" is a highly rated, short, easily digestible handbook of thought-provoking tips on how to be, and how to help others become, more culturally effective.  Author Vernā Myers explores the pitfalls of engaging across difference and offers solutions in powerful but accessible ways.

In "Braving the Wilderness", Brene Brown teaches us what it means to truly belong, and that true belonging starts within us. If we can belong within ourselves, even if it feels like we are alone in the wilderness, we share our most authentic selves.

In "How to be an Antiracist", Ibram Kendi reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America and points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. Instead of working with the policies and system we have in place, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it. 

All participants will receive a free copy of the book, attend small group meetings, and have access to an online forum to interact as they read, sharing resources, as well as posing and answering questions. Accessible versions of the book are available as well. Participants will be invited to join us for a wrap-up celebration dinner at the end of the semester.

The Outcomes:

At the end of the Learning Community activities, we believe that each participant will experience:

  • Reduced stress when interacting with others

  • Increased cultural awareness and respect for differences

  • Increased sense of belonging