‘UConn Reads at the AACC’ goes beyond reading  


On Thursday evening, the University of Connecticut’s African American Cultural Center hosted a second session for “UConn Reads at the AACC,” where they covered “Light from Uncommon Stars,” acting similar to a book club. Professor Briona Jones joined the discussion of the novel and its themes of queerness and acceptance. 

Written by Ryka Aoki, the sci-fi novel follows the stories of several young men and women as they go on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance. It’s been lauded as one of the best trans-fiction novels to come out in recent years and has garnered appreciation across the board from the LGBTQIA+ community. As a queer woman, Jones’ input and guidance helped the group explore some of the more prominent themes in the novel and how they can be reflected in our own lives. The introduction of her background — and how her experiences growing up in Rochester, New York led her to become an outspoken member of the LGBTQ community — provided a leeway into the discussions that we had. 

It was not required for any students or staff to have read the book, as some may find themselves drawn by the idea of conversing, rather than the premise of the novel. The purpose of these meetings is to inspire discussion amongst BIPOC by using a novel as a catalyst. 

Students and staff, along with Jones, were encouraged to read out loud popcorn style. In addition to giving us a relevant passage to discuss, it also worked to engage the group by offering each of them a chance to share. This type of open forum reading led by Jones was a great opportunity for students to voice their opinions on the writing style of the novel and how they felt about the events that transpired throughout it. From the plot to the writing style, the majority of the group seemed to enjoy the novel, impressed with the events and how they unfold over 22 chapters.  

One of the biggest focal points of the discussion was the idea of queerness and what it means to be an ally. Because the novel is focused on the stories of lesbian, queer and transgender characters, it was a welcome opportunity for members of various communities to contribute their thoughts and opinions on numerous matters. This Socratic discussion went a long way in helping students and staff feel connected by allowing everyone to hear different viewpoints and integrate them into their own responses. None of the opinions were contrasting in nature; they all contributed to a large woven web of different experiences that made up the basis of discussion continuing forward.  

Students talked about their own experiences as members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community and how those experiences shaped their viewpoints of the book. For non-members, a lot of the text contained eye-opening occurrences they hadn’t heard of before. For those more integrated, they found it comforting to see a story represent familiar grounds.  

Discussions of humanization amongst groups and the isolation of allyship were two of the most surprising topics that evening. Focus on virtual signaling versus true allyship, the cost of speaking up and division amongst various LGBTQIA+ groups were discussed in great detail. The idea of what it meant to be Black and queer also came into question, as the experience varies greatly from ethnic group to ethnic group and isn’t universal, even within the confines of our very own institution. But in contrast to discussions in class where you’re being watched and graded on the number of times you speak, students and staff felt they were contributing something of their own volition rather than pressure from a grade book. 

While the series is presented by the AACC, students and staff of all ages, sexuality and ethnicity are welcome to join. The AACC prioritizes creating an inclusive environment for everyone who is interested in books or discussions to come together and talk about topics relevant to what they’re reading for that month. Interested students can pick up a copy of the book to read from the center in room 407 of the Student Union.  

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