GCC students relate to themes of ‘Mudbound’

Posted: Saturday, March 12, 2011
By Mike Pettinella Daily News Correspondent The Daily News Online

BATAVIA — Fictional characters, all, but yet they evoke such real emotions from those who become part of their lives by reading this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” selection, “Mudbound” by Hillary Jordan.

Eighteen Genesee Community College students joined several faculty and staff members Wednesday afternoon to share their opinions of the novel, which explores racism and social injustice in the Jim Crow South in the years following World War II.

Some spoke of the characters they liked, such as Laura McAllan, a city girl who struggled to adjust to raising her two daughters on a cotton farm purchased by her husband, Henry, in the Mississippi Delta. Others favored Ronsel, a black soldier who was accepted — even respected — in Europe while serving in the war but returned home to find that he had to use a separate entrance from his white counterparts.

“Even though I maybe was angry with her (Laura), I must say that she touched everyone’s lives, and for that aspect, I like her,” said Selina Smith of Batavia, an adult learner with six children of her own.

Beyond that, Smith, a transplanted Floridian, said that the book “brought me back to my childhood” where she was introduced to the reality of prejudice.

“I remember the year we integrated in the schools, and the riots that were going on,” said Smith, who was a fifth-grader in Leesburg in 1965. “I remember the teachers telling us we could only be maids, or nurses and not doctors; that we could never achieve to our highest potential.”

Smith, a first-year student at GCC, recalled that blacks were separated from whites during lunch.

“We weren’t allowed to mingle with the white kids,” she said.

She also spoke of the separate areas in restaurants and at the doctor’s office.

She remembered the hurt she felt when she lost a childhood friend to prejudice.

“My best friend (after integration) was a white girl. Her parents took her out of the public school and sent her to a private school. Because we were raised in a black community, I really didn’t know the extent of prejudice until the fifth grade.”

Things are better today in the South, Smith said, but now both sides use the race card in an attempt to justify their circumstances. “It’s not just the whites, it’s the blacks, too,” she said.

Smith, who is eyeing a career in the health care field, said that “Mudbound” has made a profound difference in her learning experience.

“I told my instructor (Julie Jackson-Coe) that I’ve been waiting for a book that would turn me into reader,” she said. “This is it.

“This is a new beginning for me. And to be in a discussion group like this has really sparked my interest in reading.”

Another freshman, Mark Tooley of Stafford, agreed with the group’s overall opinion that the character, Pappy, was “someone that everyone loves to hate.”

“Pappy’s prejudicial views remind me of my grandfather, but I attribute that to his upbringing, his past,” Tooley said. “He’s an older person from a different generation.”

Most of the students liked the way the author told her story through alternating, first-person perspectives using six main characters. Each chapter provides a different point-of-view.

“It was a bit confusing at first,” Tooley said, “but as I kept reading, I couldn’t wait to see what the next person had to say. I couldn’t put the book down. I finished it at 5:30 in the morning.”

Jackson-Coe, an assistant professor of Reading in Transitional Studies, moderated the group discussion along with Judy Sikora, former library director at the college.

The discussion group was one of several “Tale” initiatives supported by GCC.

The Literary Club joined in the project this year, with Anita Whitehead, references services librarian, and Thomas Kinsey, technical assistant for Enrollment Services Communication, serving as co-chairs. Kinsey also led one of the discussion groups.

Sixteen classes and two reading groups at the college’s six campus locations used the book in their studies, said Nina Warren, director of Library Services at GCC.

Jackson-Coe said she included a “Mudbound” book project in the syllabus of her five Reading 101 classes. Students could select from various assignments: book discussion group participation, writing an essay on their favorite or least favorite characters, poetry and developing questions for the author’s visit to the college.

“One student asked if he could write a summary,” Coe stated. “I said, ‘No, I’ve read the book. I want to know what you think.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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