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RWU Common Reading Program

The Common Reading Program at RWU provides an introduction to academic life at the University for our new students and serves as a vehicle to bring the community together over a shared intellectual endeavor. This program was started in 2006 and has become a tradition that promotes the importance of academics, community, and discourse.  Each year the Common Reading Selection Committee meets to discuss possible books and carefully considers themes and topics that are integral to student learning, academic exploration and discussion. The authors of the selected books are invited to campus to provide a lecture and to participate in related activities, including classroom discussions. The result is a program that encourages new students, upperclassmen, and faculty and staff to explore interesting topics together and to share a common experience during the first weeks of the new semester each year.

Books that have been selected over the years have included:

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 2006
Along Way Gone by Ishmael Beah 2007
The Working Poor by David Shipler 2008
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 2009
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder 2010
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins 2011
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 2012
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick 2013
The Circle by Dave Eggers


In the Shadow of the Banyan



Themes of identity & immigration using the documentary Ellis as a starting point for reflection & discussion


2016 Common "Reading" Selection

Join the Roger Williams University entering class and our entire academic community as we explore themes of idenity & immigration.   This year the  Common Reading Committee has taken an innovative approach to the 2016-2017 common “reading” experience.   Instead of using the traditional model of assigning a book, our community will examine themes of identity and immigration using the documentary Ellis.  Beginning at summer orientation and continuing throughout the year, students will be introduced to the concepts of close reading and learning reflection, and encouraged to apply these to their analysis of Ellis. This approach will expand the ways in which we can “read’ the themes by not restricting us to a singular text.

Themes Introduced at New Student Orientation

During New Student Orientation, students participated in a newly designed, two-hour orientation session on the academic transition to RWU entitled “Charting Your Course @RWU.” This interactive session made heavy use of polling software to help frame the academic choices that students would begin to make when registering for courses the following day. The first hour focused on identifying the skill sets and habits of mind necessary for success at RWU and beyond. Students were encouraged to view the curriculum options as a set of opportunities through which skills and habits could be honed. They were also introduced to the resources available to support their success.

The second hour of the session was also interactive and designed to serve as a model classroom experience. Dr. Becky Spritz introduced the documentary Ellis, and asked students to respond via polling software with what they knew about Ellis Island. Students could submit multiple responses and answers were projected live on a large screen. She then led the group in a discussion of what it means to do a close reading, and how the practice of looking at both details and patterns might be applied to a film. She followed with an introduction to the idea of a learning reflection by asking students text responses to one or more of the following prompts.

  • What does the film make you think about and how it makes you feel?
  • What details stand out to you, or do you think might be important?
  • What connections can you make to what you know, or to things that are happening in the world?

Students then viewed the 15-minute documentary after which they were asked to text a 1-minute paper response to one or more of the following prompts.

  • What did the film make you think about and how did it make you feel?
  • What details stand out to you, or do you think might be important?
  • What connections did you make to what you know (or thought you knew) about Ellis Island?
  • What connections did you make to things that are happening in the world?

Students were then dismissed to a 30-minute session during which a trained peer orientation advisor led them in a small group discussion about some of the themes emerging from the film. The goal here was to help students begin to see that they were part of a learning community in which people think, write, and talk about important ideas.

For more information about the common reading experience, please contact Associate Provost Bob Shea or Associate Dean of Students Allison Chase Padula.