One Book, One Community event packs house, but few students in attendance
A boy from India gets separated from his family at the age of five, is adopted by Australian parents, and then 25 years later is reunited with his long-lost Indian family. On Sunday night, that boy made a stop in East Lansing to speak with residents and students about his movie-worthy story.
Author Saroo Brierley, the little boy whose story is told in the book "A Long Way Home" and its film adaptation, 2016's "Lion," spoke at the Hannah Community Center as a part of East Lansing and Michigan State's One Book, One Community program.
From the line wrapping around the main entryway to the attendees sitting in the aisles, it's clear East Lansing residents have an interest in the program. Since it began in 2002, One Book, One Community has evolved from a sort of community book club that gathered to read "Fahrenheit 451," to an event that packs both the Hannah and Breslin Centers on back-to-back days as the authors of the selected books come out to speak. Driving home the theme of college-city unity, East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows and MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon both made opening remarks before Brierley came out on stage.
Despite a standing-room-only crowd, very few college students came out to the Sunday event, bringing into question the program's effectiveness at uniting the student body and the community. Neil Kane, the director of undergraduate entrepreneurship at Michigan State, thought simply scanning the crowd was proof that MSU students were not greatly involved in the community-wide event.
"It does not appear to the naked eye that this event is bringing out a lot of students," Kane said.
That doesn't mean that students who didn't attend Sunday's event haven't been reading Brierley's story. Tahlia Decory, a transfer student from Lansing Community College, received a copy of the book in her bag at her orientation. She said that despite her inability to attend, the program has the potential to bring MSU students and East Lansing residents together over a common interest.
"I've actually tried to start reading it," Decory said. "It definitely gives the opportunity to meet more people outside of MSU."
However, Decory said she wasn't aware of Brierley's event at the Breslin Center, and that outside of a "passing mention" of the program made at her orientation, there was little information provided to her on what to do with the book besides read it.
"I'm pretty sure they gave us the days, but they didn't emphasize them," Decory said.
Marketing senior Riley Anson originally said he had never heard of One Book, One Community. After later remembering some vague details about a "recommended book" from the summer before his freshman year, he said a program like One Book, One Community has potential to "build consensus" among residents and students.
"I think, depending on the content of the book itself, I think that could be an effective way to bring people together," Anson said.
To one former Spartan, low student involvement in the program at the Hannah Center is no surprise. East Lansing resident and MSU alumna Maureen Moloney said she doesn't think many students have ever come to the Sunday night event, since the Breslin event is required for incoming freshmen.
"There's a lot of us with grey hair that are here, and a lot less people like your age that are here tonight," Moloney said. "But I'm sure tomorrow it'll be the opposite direction. I'd love to see some way of combining the two."
Despite the low student turnout to the community event, students do still get involved with the reading. Moloney said she has seen the effects of MSU's required reading of the One Book, One Community book far from campus.
"One time I was just driving to my mother's house outside of Flint, stopped at an apple orchard, the young woman was reading the book," Moloney said. "We were able to have a conversation about that even though I was in the middle of, you know, kinda farmland."
"I just don't know that most of us get that experience to have that direct conversation."