Two years ago UAB began a project to unite students, faculty and staff with an annual campus discussion book.

The level of discussion is being raised for this year’s book – Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’ – with the new initiative Campus Conversations, based on essays by faculty and staff that examine issues raised in the book through the viewpoint of varying disciplines.

Campus Conversations is a way to expand the depth of the discussion beyond the introductory freshman discussion sessions this fall, says Philip Way, Ph.D., associate provost for Undergraduate Programs.

“This is a way to reach beyond the incoming students,” Way says. “By developing a collection of essays to stimulate more debate and co-sponsoring school and departmental conversations concerning the topic of social class and social mobility, faculty may be stimulated to include many of the issues in their classes and increase the longevity of the conversation on these issues.”

View to an issue
In All Over but the Shoutin’, Bragg, a former New York Times correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, recounts his childhood in the rural South as a poor white boy who aspires to escape a life of wage labor, alcoholism and petty crime that ensnares many in his North Alabama hometown. With the encouragement of a mother who epitomizes humble self-reliance and heroic self-sacrifice, Bragg does just that, becoming a journalist who wins more than 30 other national, regional and state writing awards with material the Pulitzer committee called his “elegantly written stories about contemporary America.”

Seven original essays provide an individual take and discipline-specific perspective on the ethical issues of class and social mobility raised in the book. Five of the essays are being written by faculty, including William Cockerham, Ph.D., distinguished professor of sociology; Sarah Culver, Ph.D., associate professor of business; James McClintock, Ph.D., professor of biology; Charles Calhoun, Ph.D., assistant dean of the School of Education; and Virginia Richmond, Ph.D., chair of Communication Studies.

One essay is co-authored by Max Michael, M.D., dean of the School of Public Health and Huw Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the School of Dentistry. The final essay is authored by DeeDee Bruns, associate vice president for Enrollment Management.

Unique perspective
Each writer brings a unique perspective to the issues raised in All Over but the Shoutin’.

Cockerham read and analyzed the book from a sociological perspective, specifically looking at the issue of upward social mobility for Bragg, who managed to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the New York Times though he hailed from rural Alabama and attended only one semester of college.

“He was able to move to the top of his profession simply through talent and on-the-job training because he really didn’t have much formal education,” Cockerham says. “When you look at what constitutes upward social mobility, the key factor is education. Bragg is a rare case in that he’s been able to transcend that as a result of his professional achievements.”

Richmond found the human communication fascinating. “I didn’t grow up in his situation, but I certainly understand what it means when people call you ‘white trash,’ ” she says. “I found the book immensely interesting and certainly applicable to our field.”

Calhoun was rewarded by his own effort. “Writing the essay gave me an opportunity to reflect on something I was reading and make the parallels with my life. I enjoyed that,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how much interest the students take in it. If they find [the essay collection] of any value, and if it causes them to think and make similar reflections, that would be great.”

Collaboration of chance
The collaboration of deans Michael and Thomas happened a bit by chance. The two were talking about the importance of education, jobs, wages and the impact they have on health a week or so before they were approached to write an essay for Campus Conversations.

“When the opportunity came, and there are some subtle health themes in Bragg’s book, I said, ‘Why don’t we do this together and look more closely at some of the deep-seated social and policy issues as they are related to health,” Michael says. “There were a couple of serious health issues in the book; one was the father dying of tuberculosis and alcoholism and the mother had major dental problems. They were poor and lived in rural communities. We used that as our area of focus, trying to focus specifically on the issues related to the impact of poverty, of poor education, low wage-earning jobs and the impacts those things have on health.”

Save the dates
Developed as part of UAB’s Quality Enhancement Plan, the UAB Discussion Book project promotes civic involvement, respectful dialogue about often-controversial issues  and more knowledgeable participation in a global society.

Facilitator training sessions for the Freshman Discussion Group sessions are set for Friday, Aug. 17 from 9:30-11 a.m. in Education Building rooms 144 and 148 Monday, Aug. 20 from 6-7:30 p.m. in Hill University Center Room 514.

Bragg will deliver a presentation Tuesday, Aug. 21 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. in the Alys Stephens Center.