On the Same Page
Students create campaign while studying Charity Navigator’s DEI Goals and spearheaded an effort to provide diverse literature to Boston Public schools.
How does it feel to seldom see your identity represented in a story you read? What does it mean to your self-esteem if someone with your skin color, your family’s background, your disability, or someone that speaks your language is missing from the literature in your school’s library? Plain and simple, “I - and my experiences - don’t matter.”
Books can be labeled, ‘windows’ or ‘mirrors’ depending on what the story is about and who the reader is. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, defined these terms in her groundbreaking article, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. She writes, “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”. It is vitally important that all children see themselves reflected in the stories they read, and likewise, important that all students read and learn about those unlike themselves.
A few years ago, at Emerson College in Boston, I established a Nonprofit Communication Management program. One course that I teach, Nonprofit Fundraising Campaigns, prepares students to write grants and run campaigns. Neil Harris, a Boston Public School (BPS) teacher, shared that many BPS students rarely have access to inclusive literature. I decided to bring this need to my nonprofit students and discovered they were enthusiastically on board to change this. We have set out to dismantle the inequities of access to diverse and inclusive literature through our campaign, On the Same Page, one BPS school at a time. Each semester, a new group of students in my course takes over the campaign and we partner with a different public school in Boston. Students take on all campaign responsibilities; marketing and creative design, social media, website content creation, and data analytics. So far, over 1,000 new books have been donated to Boston Public Schools through On the Same Page, and we’ve only just begun.
This semester, we are partnering with Excel High School in South Boston, which has a multicultural student body - Black, Latino, Caucasian, and Vietnamese. The list of books on the wish list is created by the faculty and students from the benefiting school and reflects the diversity and representation of the student body. One of Excel’s teachers, Josephine Glausen, created an extensive wishlist which is currently registered with the minority-owned Frugal Bookstore, a small business located in Boston. Each semester, On the Same Page works closely with one lead teacher at a public school in Boston. The teacher is either referred to us by a former school partner or contacts us directly to be considered. Once selected, that teacher meets with my students to share why this campaign is needed for their school. The teacher then shares photos and videos of their school, as well as messaging from students and fellow teachers expressing their need for diverse literature. The partner is expected to share the campaign's content on the school's social media platforms. Pre-Covid, at the end of the campaign, we celebrated by bringing the Emerson and Boston public school students together. We look forward to doing that again soon.
As author Grace Lin shared in the TedXTalk, The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child's Bookshelf, “...look at your child's bookshelf -- are all the books mirrors or are they all windows? Make sure that you have both, because if you do, you're setting a path for self-worth and empathy and that is a brick road worth following.”
On the Same Page’s wish list includes an array of titles and content that will engage students by offering them both windows and mirrors. Our mission is simple, to create positive change in our local school system, because every student should have the opportunity to be part of a story, because representation in literature matters.
Written by Prof. Cathryn Cushner Edelstein, Senior Executive-in-Residence, Communication Studies Department, Director of the Nonprofit Communication Management Program, Emerson College, Boston, MA. To collaborate and share ideas, you can find Professor Edelstein here.
 Bishop, Rudine Sims. The Ohio State University. "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors" originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, no. 3. Summer 1990.