Small groups, big issues

On an unseasonably warm February night, students from around campus gathered in the homes of several Wake Forest faculty members to discuss a popular and controversial topic: globalization.

To set the stage for the discussion, students and faculty read Pietra Rivoli’s “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy,” which examines the causes, consequences and implications of globalization in today’s complex and fiercely competitive economy. By tracing the clothing industry from the cotton fields of Texas to a used T-shirt market in Africa, Rivoli gives the reader a sense of how many people and places the system touches.

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Pietra Rivoli, economist and author of “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy,” will deliver a one-hour lecture followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session:

The book was not a class assignment, but an extracurricular chance for students and faculty to engage in conversation about a timely topic. This year’s book discussion groups were organized as a collaboration between the Office of Campus Life and Leadership, the Office of Sustainability and the Focus on Fair Trade Initiative.  The book club program was started by Campus Life three years ago. Each year a different theme is highlighted for the various book club meetings that take place throughout the fall and spring semesters. This year, the focus is on trade injustice, fair trade and the effects of globalization.

Political Science Professor and Chair Katy Harriger hosted one of the groups and emphasized the importance of holding these relaxed discussions to connect students and faculty. “I like inviting students to my home,” she said.  “It allows interaction to happen in an informal way, which gives students the ability to express themselves in a way they might not in a classroom environment.”

Reece Szymanowski, a senior finance major, was among the more than 70 students, faculty and staff who read the book and signed up to participate in small group discussions.

“This provides an outlet for discussion that might not exist otherwise, and I think students and teachers gain so much from talking with one another, not just about the topic itself but about other pressing issues, both here on campus and more broadly out in the world,” said Szymanowski, who signed up for the program to better understand the dynamics of the global economy.

Students and faculty from various departments ranging from math to political science have taken part.

Sharing perspectives across ages and disciplines can teach faculty a lot about where students are coming from today, Harriger said.

“A group like this can make thinking and talking about big ideas more enjoyable and relevant for students as well as teachers, and I find the different perspectives students have to offer both surprising and thought-provoking,” Harriger said.  She admired the fact that Rivoli was inspired to write the book after witnessing Georgetown college students participating in a demonstration against the practices used to create college apparel worn on campuses across the county.

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