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Summer 2022

Dear First-Year Student,

Welcome to Siena College and to the First Year Seminar. The Seminar is a two semester, writing intensive course required of all first-year students. The overall goal of the Seminar is to prepare you for the intellectual life of college:  how to read critically, how to engage with a text, how to articulate an informed position on big questions, how to write clearly and persuasively, how to voice an opinion in a classroom conversation, how to make connections between and among the readings you are doing, the subjects you are studying, as well as between Siena and the outside world. In addition, the Seminar will introduce you to the Franciscan heritage that is unique to Siena.

You will remain with the same faculty member and classmates for both semesters.  In all sections, the themes for the year are those of our Core curriculum. For the first semester, they  are:  Heritage and the Natural World; for the second semester, the themes are:  Diversity and Social Justice. Within each theme, there are a few interdisciplinary readings common to all sections of the course. Individual faculty choose the remaining readings and an overall theme to bring coherence to their sections.  The lives and stories of St. Francis and St. Clare are interwoven throughout the year. In addition, a required summer reading offers incoming first-year students a common intellectual experience. We have proudly selected Colson Whitehead's award-winning novel The Nickel Boys as the required summer reading for the incoming Class of 2026. 

Requirements for the summer assignment:
  • Read the book slowly and thoroughly. 
  • Be ready to speak about the book when you come to class. Study it, mark or highlight what you think are important passages from the text and write down reactions, questions, reflections that you may have.
  • During the first week of class, there will be a written assignment and/or quiz about the book. Please see the Summer Reading Discussion Questions to help you as you read.
Discussion Questions 
  1. What is the significance of the first sentence in Chapter One?  In what ways is MLK the driving force of Elwood’s “undoing”? How do these characters influence Elwood: his grandmother, Harriet, Mr. Hill, Mr. Marconi? 
  2. How does Nickel Academy differ from Elwood’s view of how society is organized and how it functions? How does Nickel Academy affirm Elwood’s views about society?  
  3. Identify and explain how Elwood and Turner are similar as well as different and refer to specific examples. Be sure to include a comparison of their ideas pertaining to justice, dignity, optimism, and survival.
  4. What are some of the “crimes” that lead to boys being placed in Nickel Academy?  What do these “crimes” tell us about the actual purpose of Nickel Academy as well as about society?
  5. In what ways do those in the larger community benefit from Nickel Academy and from the labor performed by the boys who live there? What do you think about this? Do you see any past or current parallels to these types of relationships?
  6. Explain what the events leading up to, during, and after the boxing match in Chapter Nine say about power and/or lack of power. How does this chapter relate to the Prologue?
  7. How is the reader clearly aware of the violence and trauma that the Nickel boys endure in spite of Colson Whitehead limiting the graphic details surrounding such episodes of brutality? Why do you think Whitehead chooses to blur or omit vivid details of physical and sexual abuse? 
  8. How did you feel about the ending? Were you surprised by the plot twist? Who do you think this novel is about - Elwood? Turner? Others?
  9. By the end of the novel, how are Elwood’s dreams being achieved?  Do you think Turner has made Elwood proud? 
  10. Explain how the novel raises questions about history and stories and how they are valued, recorded, and disseminated.  
  11. Why do you think FYS has chosen this particular novel at this particular time? 
  12. How does The Nickel Boys relate to your chosen FYS theme?


Happy reading!

The First Year Seminar Faculty