NMU Diversity Common Reader Selection Explores Mental Illness

Book Cover
Book Cover

Northern Michigan University will host a Diversity Common Reader Program built around Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness. The book is written by Jessie Close, who struggled as a young adult with symptoms that would transform into severe bipolar disorder, with running commentary and an epilogue written by her sister, actress Glenn Close. Up to 240 free copies of the book will be distributed to NMU students beginning at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, in the atrium of the Hedgcock Building. NMU faculty and staff, as well as community members, are also encouraged to read this selection and participate in program activities.


“The President’s Committee on Diversity had discussed broad themes for this year’s reader program and several people suggested that mental illness would be a timely and relevant topic,” said Susan Morgan, project chair. “We thought this book would help raise awareness and sensitivity to mental health diversity. It is a palatable and relatable read for the student population. It’s also interesting because it revolves around a famous family sharing their story and working to remove the stigma associated with mental illness.”


When the Close sisters were very young, their parents joined a cult called the Moral Re-Armament. The family was suddenly uprooted to a cult school in Switzerland and, later, to the Belgian Congo. Their father became a surgeon in the war-ravaged republic and ultimately the personal physician to President Mobutu. Shortly after the girls returned to the United States for boarding school, Jessie first started to exhibit symptoms of severe bipolar disorder. She would later learn that it was hereditary. She embarked on a series of destructive marriages as the condition worsened.

Jessie's mental illness was passed on to her son, Calen. It wasn't until Calen entered a psychiatric hospital that Jessie herself was diagnosed. She is now a stable and productive member of society, living outside Bozeman, Mont. Jessie writes a regular blog for Bring Change 2 Mind and has received awards from mental health organizations. Glenn continues to be her major supporter.  

The Diversity Common Reader Program will partner with Platform Personalities to bring Jessie Close to campus. It may also work with the Active Minds student organization to raise money for the Bring Change 2 Mind Foundation, a national anti-stigma campaign born out of a partnership between Glenn Close and Fountain House, where Glenn volunteered in order to learn more about mental illness because of its impact on her sister and nephew. The Student Art Gallery in the University Center will host an exhibit of student works that align with the theme and the English department may hold a related writing contest. Book discussions are also planned. Activities have not been finalized. Updates will be posted at http://www.nmu.edu/diversitycommittee/reading.

Morgan said the Diversity Common Reader Program originates with the President’s Committee on Diversity, but receives support from several other campus entities, especially MERC, the provost’s office, the English department, School of Art and Design, and the College of Arts and Sciences. 

For more information, contact Susan Morgan at smorgan@nmu.edu. 

Prepared By
News Director
January 18, 2016