"Common Ground": A Campus Theme & Common Read
Westminster College’s annual theme, "Common Ground," offers members of the campus community an opportunity to engage in a year long discussion about compelling issues, ideas, and texts. College settings encourage the free exchange of ideas among people of diverse backgrounds and a common theme can help facilitate some of those conversations. Because of the college’s unique setting in the middle of a thriving urban center that is surrounded by the Wasatch mountain range, the Great Salt Lake, and miles of uninhabited desert, Westminster employs a “place-based” theme that rotates each year among desert, mountain, lake, and city. The theme for 2010-2011 is city.
While the annual theme will be explored through a range of programming, including classroom based readings and discussions, visiting speakers, films, field study opportunities, and other special events, the centerpiece of the initiative is the “common read” experience, in which all incoming first-year students read the same book and then discuss that text during first-year orientation in conversations led by college faculty, staff, and upper-class students. The common read ensures that all members of the incoming class will begin their Westminster College journey with a shared experience, no matter what the student’s background, academic ability, or major.
The common read is selected each year by a large committee made up of students, faculty, and staff representing the college’s many constituencies. Members of the theme committee solicit suggestions for possible titles that might relate to the year’s place based theme, winnow that extensive list down to three or four selections, read the final options, and then select a text. The committee hopes that the selected text will be necessarily provocative by initiating discussion about many issues that are important to students, faculty, and staff as they consider what it means to interact with their environments.