Ivy Tech Indianapolis’ “Campus Read” kicked off its inaugural series on February 15, handing out copies of the memoir “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row” by Anthony Ray Hinton. 

It was the first book Dr. Lorenzo Esters, Ivy Tech Indianapolis’ Chancellor, thought of when he and Natasha Synowka, Director of Library Services at Ivy Tech Indy, discussed the idea of Campus Read. 

At the Campus Read kick-off event, Dr. Esters said Hinton’s book changed his life. 

“The book is about you. The book is about me. It's about the population of folks who also need Ivy Tech Indianapolis – the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated. It's a gut-wrenching true story about holding on to hope while in the midst of despair,” Dr. Esters said. 

Dr. Esters shared that over 20,000 individuals are released from prison in Ivy Tech Indianapolis’ three-county service area. The Chancellor said this is why justice-involved initiatives like Ivy Tech’s “ELEVATE: Change Starts Here” are crucial. 

“Where will they go? How do they get a path to a better life? Regardless of innocence, what role will we, as a campus without walls, play?” Dr. Esters asked attendants during his speech at the Campus Read event. “I hope you’ll read the book and allow it to strengthen your resolve to do what we do every single day on this campus; we change lives.” 

“He had said that he was very interested in engaging the community in reading this book and also hosting the author,” Synowka said. “I said, ‘I love that idea.’ I’ve seen these series be very successful, and the library seems like a fantastic place to really let that initiative live.”

Hinton’s powerful memoir of hope, love, and justice covers the 30 years he sat on death row for a crime he did not commit and his eventual release with the help of famed civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson. 

The series has several programming events centered around the topic of wrongful conviction, beginning on February 23 with a panel discussion involving community partners working to make a difference on the local level regarding incarceration. Then, a film screening of “Just Mercy,” based on the life of Stevenson, will show on the Lawrence campus on March 1 and Indy’s campus on March 2. Next, community discussions about the memoir will be held on March 23 in Lawrence and April 19 in Indy. And finally, the series wraps on April 25 with a keynote presentation by Hinton himself, including a book signing and a Q&A. 

Natasha Synowka speaks at the Inaugural Campus Read Kick-Off.

Synowka says she is excited to have the Campus Read series open to everyone –  students, staff, faculty, and the community at large – because discussing a remarkable book such as Hinton’s on such a large scale can be an enlightening conversation. 

“I think there's something really powerful about the opportunity to engage in shared conversation together with each other,” Synowka said. “I'm really excited for the community to be able to engage in a story that might open their eyes to experiences that are maybe unfamiliar, and then for us to have some shared conversation around that.”

Rhonda Angsman, Ivy Tech Indianapolis’ Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Support, has been instrumental in arranging Hinton’s visit. 

“In talking to people who've read the book, they're absolutely thrilled with the prospect of meeting and being able to talk to Hinton because the book had so much meaning to them. There's a faculty member who said she read the book, and she said, ‘you know, meeting him would bring this book full circle for me,’” Angsman said. “I think that even for folks who haven’t yet read the book, knowing that the author’s coming is very enticing.”

Dr. Esters encourages Ivy Tech students to take part in reading the book and engaging in the conversations to come. 

“For students, I hope it inspires you to succeed against the odds. And to have an unwavering commitment to your own success, to supporting the common good and welfare of others, and the decency in our humanity,” Dr. Esters said.  

The future of Campus Read

Depending on funding, the goal for Synowka and Angsman is to keep Campus Read ongoing, either as an annual or biannual academic series event, each containing a central theme and bookmarked with an author visit. 

“If we can, we'd love to because truly, it enriches the whole experience to the pinnacle being that you get to shake the author's hand after reading the book and having a signature on the book,” Angsman said. 

Of course, with any initiative, the group's continuance depends on funding and enlarging its committee. 

The group has already applied for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant to help make next year’s series possible. 

From a collection of about 15 books, Campus Read selected “There There” by Tommy Orange. The National Bestseller tells the story of 12 individuals from Native American communities who are traveling to one particular powwow. But, unbeknownst to themselves, they are all connected. 

“There's a lot of diversity within those 12 stories that explore cross-generational experiences. Folks who are grappling with a wide variety of lived experiences, and we thought there would be a lot of on-ramps for audience members to engage with their stories,” Synowka said. 

Synowka and Angsman are exploring event ideas such as partnering with the Eiteljorg Museum and introducing a companion read in the form of a graphic novel to better engage younger readers in the community. 

“We thought that ‘There There’ would provide a lot of really fun opportunities for programming and partnering with folks in our community,” Synowka said.

If you’re interested in grabbing a copy of “The Sun Does Shine” you can visit the Library Resource Center on the Indy campus or the Indianapolis Public Library, which has physical copies, e-books, and audiobooks available.

If you or someone you know is interested in being on the Ivy Tech Indy Campus Read planning committee, reach out to Natasha Synowka (nwickenheiser@ivytech.edu) or Rhonda Angsman(rangsman@ivytech.edu). 

MORE: Ivy Tech Indy’s 2023 Community Celebration focuses on new restorative justice program, ‘ELEVATE’

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.