Professor Organizes Book Drive for Ethiopian College

Posted: April 28, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Stephanie Hay

Rutledge Dennis
Rutledge Dennis

Rutledge Dennis, Sociology and Anthropology, went from department to department at George Mason to meet a commitment he made to his Ethiopian American friend Merid Tola, a Virginia Union University professor, after realizing the limited resources of schools and universities in Ethiopia. “Let me organize a book drive, and I will go ask for books,” he said to Tola while they were walking together on a bike path near their homes in Richmond.

And he did ask for books. He also asked for money. And he got both. He sent more than 400 textbooks earlier this month to Royal College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The overseas shipment cost almost $2,000.

“This process reaffirmed my faith in people and their desire to form a link in the chain of human development because they understood the need to continue education globally,” Dennis says. He adds that support for the project came from many people at George Mason, among them President Alan Merten and Provost Peter Stearns.

Stearns says he encourages other American scholars to think globally. “The tremendous economic pressures on countries like Ethiopia obviously severely limit opportunities to acquire books, particularly American books; yet education is vital to the future of these countries and to their opportunity to gain access to greater knowledge about the United States.”

Another administrator who was enthusiastic about the book drive was Marilyn Mobley McKenzie, associate provost for educational programs and founder and first director of African American Studies at George Mason. “My hope is that the donation will inspire a greater interest in global studies, literature, history, and culture and that some of the [Ethiopian] students will have an opportunity to travel and study in the United States. I hope there is a way that Mason students will be inspired to learn more about Ethiopia and its peoples as well. We have many Ethiopians right here at Mason and also in the metropolitan area. This initiative might inspire greater dialogue and understanding about the issues facing Ethiopia.”

Dennis cites other individuals who supported the effort: Don Boudreaux, Economics; Michelle Carr, Cultural Studies; Bob Dudley, Public and International Affairs; Martin Ford, Graduate School of Education; Mack Holt, History and Art History; Deborah Kaplan, English; Karen Rosenblum, vice president for university life, and Steve Vallas, Sociology and Anthropology.

After his huge effort, Dennis plans to take some time off from book collecting. “Now I’m going to rest a few months,” he says, laughing. “When I began to collect the books, frantically, and while I was stacking and lifting and taping and labeling, it was work—but it was fun work because there was a mission. I had a chance to speak with people who normally I would not have spoken with. It was an eye opener.”

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