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The Common Experience at Texas State University

Common Experience logoThe Common Experience at Texas State University is a yearlong initiative designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation across the campus, to enhance student participation in the intellectual life of the campus, and to foster a sense of community across our entire campus and beyond.

The Common Experience brings students together to read and engage with a powerful Common Reading 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 avenues of their own choosing.

For entering students, the Common Experience starts even before they begin classes at Texas State. The Common Reading book is distributed during New Student Orientation, and students are encouraged to start reading it and to become involved by way of the websites for Common Experience and the Common Reading Program. The Common Experience also casts an even broader net, involving faculty, the San Marcos community that 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 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 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.

President Trauth and Common Experience

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."

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."; and "Minds Matter: Exploring Mental Health and Illness." The theme for 2014-2015 is "Exploring Democracy's Promise: From Segregation to Integration." 

"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."

How the Theme Is Chosen

Faculty are encouraged to submit a Common Experience proposal on a particular theme, including suggestions for a Common Reading text, 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.