Student-led book club invites audiences to engage with diverse literature

Faith Quigley

Contributing Writer

Seniors Marcelo Swofford and Rachael Sandoval began a book club to form a community and encourage discourse over books written by authors who are BIPOC. Tthey are currently reading “There There” by Tommy Orange. BIPOC_BOOKCLUB INSTAGRAM

This summer has been unique for a number of reasons — a pandemic, the renewed momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the unfoldings of a polarizing general election.

For USF senior management major Marcelo Swofford and Rachael Sandoval, a senior at Santa Monica Community College, this summer meant starting a virtual book club centered around social justice. What started out as their shared passion for literature and the pursuit of knowledge evolved into an initiative to educate themselves and their peers through literature that is both written by and written about Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Sandoval said, “One of my professors always said that books give you the tools to deal with the hardships you face in life. We wanted to use our skills to share this avenue of learning.”

After meeting weekly for the past two months, the club is now making its way through its third novel, “There There” by Tommy Orange, an Indigenous author from Oakland. When deciding which books to read, Swofford and Sandoval try to focus on literature that is relevant and varied in experience. “Who are the prominent BIPOC authors right now? The loud voices in these social movements?” Swofford asks himself. 

Sandoval stressed that the club is not meant to feel like another English class. “We want this to be a low-stakes experience that gets a young audience engaged,” she said.

Swofford and Sandoval met during their freshman year through the Martín-Baró Scholars, a living-learning community focused on social justice at USF. (Sandoval transferred out of USF after her first year.) During their time in the year-long program, they contributed to “Changemakers: African American Leaders in San Francisco Who Made a Difference, a book showcasing 95 biographies of influential Black residents of San Francisco who grace the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center.

Both students said this experience shaped their outlooks on activism and the work that goes into grassroots movements, protests, and civil uprisings. “You can’t be an activist without taking the time to educate yourself first,” Swofford said.

Outside of Sandoval and Swofford’s personal affinity for literature, they expressed how books can be a safe entry point for people just starting to find their voices as activists. For one, Sandoval emphasized the importance of self-reflection. 

“In today’s culture it can be embarrassing to admit you don’t know where to start,” she said. “Our meetings allow people to share perspectives and ideas, but also just to express how they are feeling about everything happening in the world right now.” 

For Swofford, a cisgender, white man, literature allows him to encourage education by using resources that amplify the voices of BIPOC instead of his own. “This club has been a reminder for myself and Rachael to keep learning together,” he said.

Senior history major Jackson Foster, a member of the club, said he joined because he values those types of spaces. “Amidst the drastic social changes we are currently embarking on, organizing in this way gives people the opportunity to grow together and develop a more resilient community,” he said.The club has hopes to expand their weekly meetings to include more community engagement wherever their members are located. Whether it be inviting guest speakers or hosting workshops, Sandoval and Swofford plan to grow the club into a larger experience. To get involved, you can visit their Instagram @bipoc_bookclub.

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