Osher Institute leads a community read of Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent'

April 12, 2021

By Peggy Watson, W’76, Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

The Osher Institute at the University of Richmond recently engaged in a timely and important community read of the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson. As the U.S. continues to wrestle with its national past of racial and economic inequity and seeks to build a more inclusive and just society, Wilkerson’s book asks readers to consider history in a broader way.

To make this free/open to the public event happen, Osher worked with Dr. Rob Urstein and Alex Avery who created Gather, one of many resources listed on the Osher NRC website curriculum resource page.

In early November, the Osher Institute began extending invitations to the event while Gather staff helped by handling registrations, scheduling, and session facilitation. The Osher Institute partnered with a local bookstore for book sales. They invited members, as well the staff and students from the wider School of Professional & Continuing Studies, fellow Virginia Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI), and other lifelong learning programs in the state to participate. Final figures reflect 202 registrants, mostly from Richmond, but others throughout Virginia and as far away as Connecticut, Michigan, South Carolina, and California.

The facilitated structure of the community read proved to be critical in keeping participants engaged. Three facilitated check-in discussions on various sections of the book were held. Each guided 45-minute check-in, with small- and large-group components was offered mid-day and late afternoon to accommodate differing personal schedules.

Throughout the second week in January, the group finished the read with seven facilitated small-group discussions, giving everyone a chance to join at their convenience and to share their ideas in an engaging, meaningful way. Throughout the read, the discussions added a layer of insight, richness, and deeper understanding that reading alone would not likely have provided.

Narrative responses to the post-read survey reinforced the Osher staff’s perceived value of this activity, with comments such as:

“Being a part of the Caste discussions was an experience worth my time. It not only gave an opportunity for discussion online with the participants, but also prompted discussions with my family.”

“The topic matters — Caste was such an important book. Extremely timely to have a discussion on this one… I was glad to join conversations with other LLI members across the state (and other states). It felt like a common voyage of discovery and awakening.”

The Osher Institute looks forward to similar events in the future and appreciated that the Gather staff helped make this community read so worthwhile.

Adapted from an article published in the April 2021 edition of the Osher Network Newsletter.