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DU Introduces Common Reading Program for New Students

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University of Denver

One Book One DU initiative focuses on a shared intellectual experience

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A new University of Denver initiative designed to help students adapt to college life is doing so through a common reading program known as One Book One DU. Beginning this fall, all incoming first-year and transfer students are being asked to read, “The Truth About Stories.” The book, by author Thomas King, explores how stories shape who we are and how we understand and interact with other people.

The initiative, which came out of the University’s DU IMPACT 2025 strategic plan, is the first time DU has explored a common reading program for new students. The practice is not new within academia; it is actually recognized as a high-impact practice that increases student engagement and sense of belonging. Other universities, such as Colorado College, Penn State, Washington State University and Northwestern have been engaging students through common reading programs for some time.

“A lot of campuses do a common reading program, but we’ve never done one,” says Jennifer Karas, associate provost for undergraduate academic programs. “We want to see if we can engage students in conversation.”

Domestic students were mailed a copy of the book, and international students were sent a link to a downloadable version. After reading the book, students are asked to complete one prompt and email their responses to their orientation leaders by Aug. 22.

The prompt asked students to share a time when they experienced something unfamiliar, whether it be small or profound in nature. The response can be in writing, in the form of a video or photo or in any other way that tells their story best. In all, approximately 1,600 students were asked to complete the common reading project.

“We want them to respond to the prompt in a way that is authentic and speaks to them,” says Karas. “We wanted it to be about identity and an engaging way for students to explore.”

The idea for the common reading program began last fall. Karas worked closely with other faculty, staff and departments — including Campus Life — to put together a short list of 10 books, which was then narrowed down to four. The other three books that were considered include: “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi; “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gawande; and “Ordinary Light,” by Tracy K. Smith.

Karas says the goal of the common reading initiative is not to force students to do something, but rather present them with the opportunity to connect and engage with other students and with the University. A common reading could be introduced each fall, depending on student response to the pilot project.

“We want them to have a shared intellectual experience,” she says. “This is not supposed to be punitive. This is a welcoming; this is One DU.”

As part of the One Book One DU initiative, the University is hosting a series of events, one of which is called One Lecture. The first One Lecture event will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and will feature author and poet Gerald Vizenor. The lecture is open to the entire DU community. For more information, visit the One Book One DU website.