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Common Read 2018-19

The 57 Bus

The 57 Bus: A True Story About Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

Author: Dashka Slater

We are very happy to announce that this year’s Common Read for the FIT community, and particularly for incoming students, is Dashka Slater's The 57 Bus.

This relevant, nonfiction book is particularly well-timed; a number of today's pressing issues are discussed in this book, including race, class, socioeconomic status, gender and sexual identity, the juvenile justice system, choices, consequences, and the healing power of forgiveness. Further, the Common Read fulfills a key FIT Strategic Plan objective: to provide an empowering student experience in a cohesive community. Author Dashka Slater, winner of the 2018 Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award, will give a talk on the research that led to her book. Join us at the Hammerstein Ballroom during New Student Orientation in the fall, before a crowd of 2,200 incoming FIT students.

Many thanks to members of the FIT community who submitted over 70 Common Read book suggestions last fall. The Common Read Committee went through every suggestion and narrowed the list to this final selection. We thank the Common Read Committee for their dedicated contributions in selecting this year's Common Read title. 

More About the Author

Journalist, novelist, and children's book author Dashka Slater has been telling stories since she could talk. Her novel for adults, The Wishing Box, was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, while her journalism honors include a gold Azbee, two Maggies, and a Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award, as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Alternative Newspapers, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the California State Bar, and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. She is a former Who Made That columnist for the New York Times Magazine and has written on topics ranging from competitive jousting to criminal justice. The recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Slater’s new non-fiction narrative, The 57 Bus: A True Story About Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives, was released by Farrar Straus & Giroux in October 2017. (taken from dashkaslater.com)



The FIT Common Read Program is designed to foster a sense of community by encouraging a shared intellectual experience across the college. Since 2014, a committee of faculty, staff, and administration has selected a book as recommended reading for incoming students to the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

Common Read Selection Criteria

A book that:

  • students will enjoy reading and find relevant;
  • will challenge students intellectually;
  • faculty members can incorporate into their course reading lists;
  • can be discussed across the disciplines;
  • has not already appeared on most high school reading lists;
  • does not exceed 300-350 pages;
  • is available in various formats and is accessible to all; and 
  • ideally, has a living author.

2018-19 Common Read Selection Committee

Dr. Shadia Sachedina, Assistant Vice President for Student Success and Dean of Students (Co-chair)
Dr. Patrick Knisley, Dean for the School of Liberal Arts (Co-chair)
Dr. Sarah Blazer, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of The Writing Studio
Naomi Schwer Bricker, Librarian, Gladys Marcus Library
Dr. Katelyn Burton, Assistant Professor, English and Communication Studies
Mariah Connelly, student
Delphine Horvath, Assistant Professor, Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing
Tardis Johnson, Associate Dean for Student Academic Support, Academic Advisement
Ladeem 'Monet' Michael, student
Carmita Sanchez-Fong, Professor and Chairperson, Interior Design
Catlin Wojtkowski, Counselor, Department of Student Life
Nedean Wilson, Counselor Associate, Academic Advisement


Supplementary Texts

 January 2015 — New York Times Magazine article:
The Fire on the 57 Bus in Oakland” by Dashka Slater

 January 2015 — The Nation article:
If You Read That ‘NYT’ Story About Two Teens in Oakland, Keep This in Mind” by Dani McClain

 June 2016 — KALW Upshot radio segment (11:31 min):
The Upshot: Fire on the 57 Bus in Oakland
This is an interview with Slater about her 2015 New York Times Magazine article.

 October 2017 — San Francisco Chronicle article:
The Teen Who was Set Afire on the Bus: The Lives Behind a Shocking Assault” by Otis R. Taylor, Jr.

 January 2018 — KALW radio segment (12:26 min):
On the 57 Bus, A True-crime Story of Gender, Race, Class, and Growing Up” by Ben Trefny & Christine Nguyen
In this interview, Slater reads two excerpts from her book The 57 Bus to offer a sense of Richard and Sasha: Richard’s letter to Sasha from jail and a post from Sasha’s Tumblr blog. Discussion focuses mostly on criminal justice and wealth, race, and inequality issues. Slater expresses her hope that the empathy shown by the two families involved will resonate most with readers.


Discussion Questions
This list of discussion questions provided by the publisher may be utilized to prompt in-class discussion as well as informal or formal written work.

1. The beginning of the book expresses the desire to do something to stop the events that are about to take place. What might a passenger on the bus have done to change things? What can any of us do to prevent incidents like the one that happened on the 57 bus?
2. How did you feel about Sasha’s choice of "they" and "them" as personal pronouns when you started reading the book? Did your feelings change over the course of reading the book?
3. The glossary beginning on page 33 has separate categories for gender and sex, sexuality, and romantic inclination. Do you experience those things separately from one another, or are they intertwined?
4. The book is about an alleged hate crime. Who in the story exhibits hate? Who exhibits love?
5. Some people argue that bias crimes shouldn’t be on the books at all, that only deeds should be against the law, rather than the motive behind the deed. Others argue that bias crimes are worse than other crimes because they arouse fear among an entire group of people. What do you think? Is it important to prosecute hate crimes? Why or why not?
6. At one point Richard’s family members relate the case of Donald Williams Jr., a young black man who was bullied by his white roommates in a university dormitory. Like some of Richard’s friends and family said about what Richard did, Williams’s roommates defended their actions as a “prank.” Do you think the two cases are similar or different? What’s the difference between a prank and bullying, and between a prank and a hate crime? Is there a difference?
7. Should juveniles be charged as adults when they commit serious crimes? Do you agree with the idea of “adult time for adult crimes?” Was Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney, justified in trying Richard as an adult?
8. Do you think our society sees agender and transgender people as different from each other? If so, how? Do you think that being transgender or agender is different from being homosexual?
9. In what ways are Sasha and Richard similar? In what ways are they different?
10. Did Sasha’s family’s attitude toward Richard surprise you? Did you agree or disagree with their reaction? Why?
11. Which is harder—admitting you’ve done something wrong or forgiving someone who has wronged you? Are contrition and forgiveness linked?
12. Have your peers ever encouraged you to do something dangerous or mean? Did you go along with it?
13. Do you think Richard was being honest with the police when he told them his reason for setting Sasha’s skirt on fire? If not, why do you think he lied?
14. What surprised you about Sasha? What surprised you about Richard?
15. Richard had been robbed not long before he set Sasha’s skirt on fire, and his close friend had been murdered earlier that year. Have you ever been the victim of a crime, or lost someone close to you? How did it affect you?
16.  The fire on the bus impacted Sasha and Richard in profound ways, but it also affected the people around them. What were some of the repercussions for those people? Are there other crimes discussed in the book that also had far-reaching impacts?
17.  What point do you think the poem “Binary” is making? Do you agree or disagree?
18. What do you think is the goal of criminal punishment? Why do we put people in prison? Do you think it’s an effective strategy for reducing crime?
19. What does it mean to forgive? Jasmine tells Richard to “forgive, but don’t forget,” while Richard counters that you have to forget in order to forgive. Which do you think is true?
20. At the end of the book, Andrew says that he finds being a boy as much of a trap as being a girl. What might make gender a trap? Is that how you experience it?
21. Who did you identify with or understand in the book? Who was harder for you to relate to?
22. Several people wrote letters that are included or mentioned in this book—Karl, Debbie, Richard, and the principal of Richard’s school, Matin Abdel-Qawi. What do these letters have in common? How is a letter different from other forms of communication?
23. One chapter in the book describes ways in which the adolescent brain is different from an adult’s brain. Did this description ring true to you? Do you see yourself as being “under the influence of adolescence”?
24. In the chapter “Court Date,” members of Richard’s family talk to the media for the first time. Why do you think people took their statements the way they did? What role does the media play in shaping how people see criminal cases?
25. What do you make of the types of sources Slater uses to tell the stories of Sasha and Richard? To what extent do they allow Slater to do justice to each person?

Excerpts and discussion questions tailored to discussion groups including students who have not read the book:

Excerpts small groups could read together and discuss:
 The incident on the bus (pp 110-116 or 118)
 Richard’s letters (pp 180-186) and maybe “Mail Delivery” (p 269), Sasha and family finally received the letters: empathy
 Richard’s letters (pp 180-186) and Karl’s letter (pp 187-188): empathy
 “Ass Smacking” (pp 236-239): restorative justice, high school example unrelated to S&R “Gender, Sex, Sexuality, Romance: Some Terms” (pp 33-35)
 “Book of Faces” (p 59) (Compare images Slater shared versus media portrayal of black and brown individuals in coverage of police shootings)
“The Interview, Part 1” and next few chapters ending with “The Interview, Part 3” (pp 134-143) and “Homophobic” (pp 189-190): criminal justice, kids, and the weight of words
 “Under the Influence of Adolescence” (pp 172-175): peer pressure

Questions to pose:
 Cause and Effect: What caused the incident in which Sasha was burned? (help students see multiple ways this question could be answered)
 Responsibility: Have you ever witnessed a situation where something unjust occurred? How did you react? How might you react differently if you saw something similar or another unjust act now? (pair with excerpts on the bus incident, the adolescent brain, restorative justice)
 Issue of people thinking that it only matters what you intend when you act and not what a victim experiences/perceives
 Peer pressure: Have you ever been pressured to do something you regretted? Or pressured someone else?

Resources on Inclusive Teaching

 The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts developed an extensive, thoughtfully presented, and well-organized site for materials on inclusive teaching, including resources for in-class discussions and exercises, videos of students engaged in this work, and suggested readings.

 Facing History and Ourselves is a non-profit organization creating educational resources on issues of prejudice and injustice primarily in the U.S. and Europe. They provide units of study including readings, multimedia materials, and lessons on media literacy, race, LGBTQ history, civic engagement, etc. that could be easily adapted for humanities and social sciences courses. See examples here.

 The New York Times Learning Network developed the teaching resource, “25 Mini-Films for Exploring Race, Bias and Identity With Students” along with suggested activities and readings.

Resources on the Gender Spectrum

 Understanding Gender by Gender Spectrum

 Gender Nation Glossary by Refinery29

 Project Implicit
Individuals can learn their implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, skin tone, religion, etc. No personally identifying information is collected. Visit the site to learn more about the researchers who designed and participate in the project.

 A visually-updated take on some of Project Implicit's quizzes by MTV’s “Look Different” campaign, in partnership with Project Implicit.