The Common Experience at Texas State University is a yearlong initiative designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation on a theme, enhancing student participation and fostering a sense of community throughout the campus and beyond.
The Common Experience brings students together to read and engage with a powerful Common Reading book, explore related themes in University Seminar classes and other courses, and participate in related symposia with scholarly panels. Throughout the year, innumerable events provide opportunities for engagement. Students will hear renowned and respected speakers address the Common Experience theme, see films related to the topic, explore by way of the fine arts, and extend discussions to residence halls, coffee shops, and avenues of their own choosing.
The Common Experience also casts a broader net, involving faculty, staff, the San Marcos community, and others interested in participating in broad, intellectual consideration of a topic each year.
The initiative continues to evolve and embrace new challenges and directions each year. The Common Experience is a good idea that has become a great tradition because it has given its participants a sense of how to approach issues they may have thought were beyond themselves, as well as how much power people working together can have.
In 2004, Dr. Denise Trauth, President of Texas State University, announced an initiative designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation across the campus. "Early on, the vision was to connect entering students to a shared conversation," Trauth says, "but it quickly grew to include upper-level classes, student support services, campus activities, performing arts, and the San Marcos schools and community. The intentional connecting of many facets of university life is the kind of project that a small private liberal arts college might take on, but we cannot find evidence of a large public university ever having undertaken something so ambitious and encompassing."
That first year’s Common Experience theme was "Hatred," with the Common Reading text Night by Elie Wiesel. Subsequent themes have included "Courage"; "Protest and Dissent"; and "Civic Responsibility and the Legacy of LBJ," in honor of the university’s most famous graduate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States. More recent themes include "Exploring Democracy's Promise: From Segregation to Integration," which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the integration of Texas State, and "Bridged through Stories: Shared Heritage of the United States and Mexico, an Homage to Dr. Tomás Rivera."
Faculty and staff are encouraged to submit a Common Experience proposal on a particular theme, including suggestions for a Common Reading book, academic events and experiences, speaker suggestions, and a short analysis of what the theme is expected to accomplish. A committee chooses the theme from the proposals submitted, and the organizing committee develops and implements the Common Experience theme over a two-year period. The Common Experience team chooses speakers, has input into the selection of the Common Reading book, and creates a calendar of events each semester of the year.