The true story of female factory workers who developed radiation poisoning is the focus for this year’s Common Read and First Year Experience programs. Rocky Mountain College has selected “The Radium Girls,” by Kate Moore, as required reading for all freshman English courses. “The Radium Girls” is a detailed account of the women who were poisoned while working in radium-dial factories during the 1920s. The subsequent impact their story had on both labor issues and women’s rights in America is still important today.
The book’s subject matter connects directly into the First Year Experience (FYE) theme of “Self and Society,” which aims to explore the individual’s relationship and responsibility to the larger community.
Conceived as a way to increase freshman retention rates, FYE was implemented last year as a series of mandatory group events organized by the English department.
According to Dr. Precious McKenzie, an RMC English professor, “We want them [freshmen] to learn about the resources on campus: clubs, activities, internships, the Writing Center, the Academic Resource Center. The mission of the First Year Experience is to make them comfortable, make them feel like they are part of the community, and give them the tools they need for success.”
“This year we are moving toward more small-group programming,” said McKenzie. “We have guest speakers coming to the classes instead of so many large events. We also have a big focus on campus safety with the active shooter training, Sex and the Law, and Bystander Intervention.”
In regards to this year’s Common Read, McKenzie stated, “We were really interested in the story of these young women. They thought they were doing their best for America by helping the war effort in these factories. But when they started getting sick, no one took care of them. And that was really compelling to us. They were voiceless and marginalized. I think we still see those issues occurring today; it’s still relevant.”
“The book does a great job with all the information,” said RMC theatre professor Jayme Green. “More with a movie or play, it gives you a visual. You start to connect the dots and say ‘That’s the person I read about in the book and this is what’s happening to them.’”
Green highlighted the significance of the play in bringing the story to life for students to see. “If we do our job, the feeling behind it is what hopefully will give the book even more humanity,” Green stated.
The RMC production of “Radium Girls” will show during Homecoming Week on Wednesday Oct. 10 and Thursday Oct. 11 at Billings Studio Theatre. Both nights are free for students.
Speaking on this year’s lineup of programs for students, Academic Vice President Steve Germic stated, “Every year we are expanding and refining the First Year Experience and integrating it better with the Common Read. This year is the next stage in that evolution. I can’t thank enough the people who have been involved in that, particularly Dr. Precious McKenzie and the English program.”
In addition to watching the stage adaptation and reading “The Radium Girls,” students will have the opportunity to meet the book’s author, Kate Moore. Moore will be engaging in a Common Read Keynote Address on Nov. 5th hosted First Presbyterian Church at 7pm.
“It’s part of the whole integrated series of activities,” continued Germic. “We hope that they [freshmen] enjoy the book and meeting the author. We hope, that even after this year, they will be involved in the process of helping us decide and select our Common Reads in the future.”