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A tradition among first-year students to read and discuss a common text has inspired an effort to foster dialogue about gender and sexuality across the Vanderbilt community.

Themes explored in the 2012 Commons Reading, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is being expanded through an initiative called “Human Identities: Global, Local, Personal,” bringing speakers, art exhibits, films and related programming to Vanderbilt this academic year.

Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning husband–wife team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the book uses individual stories and social and political context to shed light on injustices in parts of Asia and Africa—such as sex trafficking, maternal mortality, sexual violence and girls’ education—and argues that oppression of women worldwide is “the paramount moral challenge” of our time.

Several academic departments, a number of centers, and some two dozen student groups are participating in the programming. WuDunn gave the Lawson Lecture on Sept. 24,  2012, and Kristof will appear as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Jan. 31. Organizers hope the larger discussion will leave a lasting impression on students, helping to direct course work and shape service learning throughout their Vanderbilt careers.

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