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Overview of Common Experience

In a large university, it would not seem possible to engage tens of thousands of people in shared consideration of a single topic, but Texas State is doing so.

The Common Experience brings students together to read and engage with a powerful text, explore related themes in University Seminar classes, write responses and reactions to the text in writing courses, participate in related symposia with scholarly panels, hear renowned and respected speakers address the topic, see films related to the Common Experience theme, explore the experience by way of the fine arts, engage in informal discussions in residence halls and coffee shops, and extend the exploration via the avenues of their own choosing.

For entering students, the Experience starts even before they do. The Common Experience text is distributed during New Student Orientation and students are encouraged to start reading it and to become involved by way of the Common Experience website. But Common Experience casts an even broader net, involving faculty, the San Marcos community which houses the University, and others interested in participating in a broad intellectual consideration of a different world-scope topic each year. These topics emerge from the competitive ideas of our own faculty, staff, and students which provides a dimension of ownership and increased involvement.

The Texas State Common Experience continues to evolve and embrace a new challenge and direction each year. The Common Experience is a good idea that has become a great tradition because it has not only given its participants a sense of how to approach issues they may have thought were someone else’s business, but also how much power people working together can have.

President Trauth and Common Experience:

In 2004, Dr. Denise Trauth, President of Texas State University-San Marcos, 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."

That first year’s Common Experience theme was "Hatred" with the Common Experience text Night by Elie Wiesel. Subsequent themes have been "Courage"; "Protest and Dissent"; "The Water Planet"; "Civic Responsibility and the Legacy of LBJ," in honor of the university’s most famous graduate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States; "The Whole Mind: Crossing Boundaries of Disciplines"; "Sustainability: Science, Policy, and Opportunity"; "Freedoms: The First Amendment.";  "A Global Odyssey: Exploring Our Connections to the Changing World."; The 2013-2014 theme is Minds Matter: Exploring Mental Health and Illness 

"The intentional connecting of many facets of university life is the kind of project that a small private liberal arts college might take on," Trauth says of Texas State’s Common Experience, "but we cannot find evidence of a large public university ever having undertaken something so ambitious and encompassing."

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