VCU selects ‘One Person, No Vote’ as its 2020-21 Common Book

A hand holds a ballot over a ballot box.
“One Person, No Vote" will allow first-year VCU students to engage with the history of voter suppression and see how it continues to inform politics today, ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy,” a 2018 book that explores the history of efforts to suppress African American voting participation, has been selected as Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2020-21 Common Book.

“One Person, No Vote,” by Carol Anderson, Ph.D., the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University, investigates what happened in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and enabled states with a history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

“Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws,” according to the publisher, Bloomsbury. “In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures.”

“One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy," by Carol Anderson, Ph.D., the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University.
“One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy," by Carol Anderson, Ph.D., the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University.

As VCU’s Common Book, “One Person, No Vote” will be distributed to all incoming first-year students through a universitywide initiative that aims to welcome new students into the vibrant intellectual culture of VCU. Co-sponsored by University College and the Office of the Provost, the program seeks to provide students with the opportunity to explore complex social issues through an interdisciplinary lens.

Anderson is scheduled to visit VCU and give a public lecture related to “One Person, No Vote” at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21 in the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Incoming students — along with the wider VCU community — will read “One Person, No Vote” amid the 2020 presidential race. 

“It’s pretty timely because 2020 is an election year,” said Felecia D. Williams, Ph.D., interim associate dean and director of the Common Book Program in University College. “Carol Anderson chronicles some of the restrictive laws that pretty much led her to the title of the book.”

For many of the first-year students, 2020 will mark their first opportunity to cast a ballot in a presidential election. “One Person, No Vote,” Williams said, will allow the students to engage with the history of voter suppression and see how it continues to inform politics today.

“I would hope that the students will be able to really understand the background of disenfranchisement, not just for African Americans but the whole notion of the history of voting,” she said. “[Anderson] chronicles the history of the franchise and I would hope that they would be able to see that in this book and really think about that in the current context, and see perhaps how important it is that they do have a voice and they can use it.”

Carley Harrison, a freshman psychology and biology major in the College of Humanities and Sciences who serves on the Common Book selection committee, said “One Person, No Vote” was transformative for her.

“I had previously learned about the hardships faced when fighting for equal voting rights, but this book really takes you back to 1865 and [is a reminder of] the oppression and discrimination many people faced after the Shelby ruling,” she said. “Learning through the insidious stories and information provided in this book, my whole beliefs of the voting rights history had completely changed and I was able to see what a privilege it is to vote. After reading this book, I have a greater appreciation for my right to vote and a stronger will to fight for something I believe in.”

The book is a great teaching tool, Williams said, and offers VCU faculty and students a chance to discuss other topics related to presidential elections, such as the popular vote and the Electoral College.

Constance Relihan, Ph.D., dean of University College, said the Common Book Program is an opportunity to come together to engage in deep thinking and civil discussion about complex and difficult issues.

“Our goal for the program is to promote critical thinking: to encourage student development in learning how to think deeply, not what to think,” she said.

The Common Book is selected each year by a committee of faculty, staff, students and administrators who read and review nominated books. In addition to integrating the book into the Focused Inquiry curriculum of UNIV 111 and UNIV 112, faculty in University College foster partnerships across both campuses and within the broader Richmond community. Students are provided opportunities to explore the real-world application and problem-solving each fall.

This year, Williams said, programs are being planned in connection with the Common Book Program for VCU students to participate in voter registration drives and voter rights restoration, in partnership with community organizations.

“We’re going to come up with programs that allow our students to go beyond the immediate VCU community, but to work in the Richmond community with groups that will allow them to apply some of what they learn here or to see it in action,” she said.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.