The Common Read – more than just an English assignment

Ashley John, new director of LIU Post office of campus life. (Photo by Mckenna Kaufman)

By McKenna Kaufman|

The common read – the annual piece of literature assigned to all incoming LIU Post freshmen – is a newly begun tradition that aims to both connect members of the freshman class and inspire involvement in the campus community,

John Lutz, an English professor and chairperson of the English department, was a member of the committee that began the tradition of assigning a piece of literature to the incoming freshman class. “We started working on the common read about six years ago,” he said. “Every year before the incoming class comes in, we get together a group of faculty, staff, and students… we usually have about a dozen [book] possibilities… we narrow them down by reading them.”

The common read tradition at LIU was initially begun in order to provide the new freshman class with a common experience that allowed them to connect with their peers. “They are making a difficult transition from high school to college,” Lutz said.

He and the committee hope that each year’s common read pushes the students to become closer to each other and find reassurance in sharing their new academic experience with their class.

In the years past, the freshman class has read pieces such as “Look Me in the Eye” by John Elder Robison, who came to speak to the students about his experiences following the assignment, and “The Pursuit of Happyness” by Chris Gardner. This fall’s selection, “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson, is Lutz’s favorite common read thus far.

“Just Mercy” details Stevenson’s life while he is a young lawyer fighting for the freedom of the most desperate individuals entangled in the criminal justice system. The piece serves as a coming of age story chronicling the path Stevenson took to pursue a life fighting for innocent people behind bars. He is currently involved with the enactment of lynching memorials in the southern United States, something Lutz appreciated. “He has done an enormous amount of work… good work,” he said.

Each year’s assignment has to reach four criteria: “We look for books that have some kind of relevance to the world and that are going to present students with a unique experience,” Lutz said. The committee aims to choose pieces that chronicle a character overcoming obstacles or encourage students to look at the world with a different perspective. In this case, students will be asked to take a deeper look into the criminal justice system and the issues that lead to the incarceration of vulnerable members of society.

Freshmen this fall are expected to complete assignments regarding the common read through the online course tool called Blackboard. “It’s basically an online resource. We create lessons and study guides for the students to use [when studying the book],” Lutz explained. Group assignments and discussions will also be a large part of the curriculum with students participating in a service project to conclude “Just Mercy.”

Ashley John, the new director of LIU Post’s office of campus life, said that LIU students are “passionate” and “really want to take ownership of this world.” This year’s common read holds a greater purpose than just simply being another college English assignment. The LIU faculty hopes this piece empowers and impacts the incoming freshman class. “We want to give you the necessary equipment and tools so that when you leave college you are able to be a good civic person, “ John continued, “[We want you to] embody good characteristics and virtues that will make the world a better place.”

With underlying themes of diversity and equality in “Just Mercy,” the piece has the potential to be a driving force behind the societal impact new LIU students are going to make through their years of college and beyond. “I think this book could be an instrumental piece in encouraging that civic responsibility amongst students,” John concluded, “You are our future.”

This article was originally published in the summer edition of the Pioneer, the award-winning student newspaper of LIU Post,, and is republished here by Blank Slate Media with the permission of the Pioneer.




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