Marist's Common Read Creates Common Ground

Engaging Incoming Students through Literature and Discussion

Before beginning their first year at Marist, incoming students from all across the nation are connected by the content of a single book. From their lawn chairs and beach blankets, rising freshman spend their vacations with the same summer reading, known as the “common read.” This concept has served as a way to engage with all first-year students without even setting foot on campus, and introduce them to certain themes and ideals upheld by the Marist community.

“We wanted the goal to be for all freshman to have a common experience as they came into Marist,” said Professor Moira Fitzgibbons, the director of Core classes at Marist.

This year, the freshman class came together under the book The Other Wes Moore written by Wes Moore. The book is a true account of the author’s relationship with a man of the same name, who grew up in the same city, and led a very different life as him. It is a compelling story of diversity and identity that generated a lot of interest from both students and faculty.

Marist College's 2016 Common Read "The Other Wes Moore"“I felt the book united my class by starting us off on a common ground,” said freshman student Robert Berghahn. “Coming from different high schools spanning across the country, this book was able to spark and perhaps unite my class on the perspective of class structure and race instilled in society.”

The Other Wes Moore seemed to get a more overwhelmingly positive reaction from students than the common read books in the past. Every year, the Common Reading Committee, made up of faculty across campus, chooses a new book for the freshman class. In choosing The Other Wes Moore, they sought relevant and interesting topics for the students that would have to read it.

“[The Common Reading Committee] liked this book because they thought it was just a really good read,” Professor Fitzgibbons articulated. “They knew that other things were going to be going on that related to questions of diversity and community and that this would go well with that.”

The material within the common read book can then be translated into the classroom at the discretion of the professor. Students go on to discuss the book in their First Year Seminars, but some classes more than others. In classrooms where the book feels really close to the topics they are covering in class, it becomes a more central focus.

In addition to assigned reading and classroom discussion, the common read is always accompanied by a talk from the author himself, who comes to campus to hold a lecture for any interested students. In past years, Marist has welcomed, and learned much from, authors such as Steven Johnson (The Ghost Map) and Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).This year, Wes Moore visited Marist to talk about the content of his book.

On the day of the Wes Moore talk, roughly 1,400 packed into the McCann Center to hear him speak. He did not refer to any notes and seemed to speak spontaneously and honestly to the room about the audience perception of his book. “He was a very engaging speaker,” said Professor Fitzgibbons. Later, back in the classroom, students were able to relate this experience back to their study of public presentations and analyze Moore as a speaker as well as a writer.

For a few select students, the night did not end with Wes Moore’s presentation. Afterward, a couple of students from each First Year Seminar had the opportunity to meet the author down by the Marist boathouse for a question and answer session. There, Wes Moore took the time to speak with these students on a personal level about the more intimate details of his book and about their own education.

Freshman Robert Berghahn got the chance to attend this event. “During that discussion, it was unique to hear Wes Moore's intentions for certain sections of his book,” he said.

However, even for the students that did not get to hear this insight by the boathouse, the common read is meant to have a lasting impression on their experience as a first-year student. “When students first meet each other there are all the typical questions,” explained Professor Fitzgibbons. “It’s nice that, whether they like the book or they hate the book, you can still have a discussion of the book.” 

Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18

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