By Taleen Babayan
California Lutheran University became the fifth U.S. university to use Peter Balakian’s memoir Black Dog of Fate as the requiring book for nearly a thousand incoming freshmen. In recent years, The College of New Jersey, University of Connecticut, Sienna College and Colgate University have also made the book a core text or a required first year read.
California Lutheran University, a private liberal arts institution located in Southern California, found Balakian’s memoir a compelling way to inaugurate its Freshman-Year Experience Program, which aims to integrate students into the school’s academic way of life.
“In the First-Year Seminar, we are especially committed to assisting students in choosing and developing an ethical stance in their academic and professional commitments,” said Professor James Bond, Associate Professor of English at CLU and Director of the Freshman-Year Experience Program. “A key emphasis in fostering an emerging ethical stance is helping them learn about what it might mean to participate in a global citizenship.”
Bond said that Balakian’s “elegant, moving, and critical memoir,” fit the program needs perfectly because it helped demonstrate to students the importance of discovering purpose. He noted that Balakian’s “younger self” does not occur through one event or moment, instead evolving over time and after much struggle, reflection and historical and family research.
“This process isn’t merely academic or narrowly personal,” said Bond. “Both are fused together, as they should be, and that fits our sense of educating the “whole person.”
While Black Dog of Fate is a personal story, focusing on Balakian’s life growing up in American-Armenian family in the 1950s and 60s, unaware that his family had been victims of the Armenian Genocide, Bond remarked that the memoir went beyond that and helps others understand the importance of being aware of one’s past “for the purpose of contributing to a higher good.”
“Professor Balakian is showing our students one viable and noble way for developing a calling beyond mere self interest, and also one that engages the self in the context of being a global citizen,” said Bond.
Professor Balakian discussed his book with incoming freshman at California Lutheran University at the start of the academic year. The book won the 1998 PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for the Art of the Memoir and has been through dozens of printings. It was published in a 10th anniversary edition, with the addition of two new chapters several years ago.