Common Reading Program connects incoming students with Tufts community

Before they even arrive on campus, each member of the incoming freshman class has something in common — a book. For the class of 2018, that book is “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” written by Wes Moore.

Incoming students each received “The Other Wes Moore” this summer as part of the university’s Common Reading Program. Now in its ninth year, the Common Reading Program seeks to welcome first-year students with an introduction to the undergraduate academic experience at Tufts.

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies co-sponsor the program. Selected by a committee of students, faculty and staff, the book is used as a tool to help new students facilitate intellectual conversations with their peers.

According to the Tisch College, another goal of the program is to explore social and political issues through critical reading. The book is chosen each year based on specific criteria related to Tufts’ core values, including the reading’s relevance to the theme of active citizenship.

“[The program] is a good way for them to have a shared intellectual experience and really come to campus with an important academic active citizenship topic on their mind,” Tisch College Communications Manager Sarah Shugars said.

In the past, common reading books have included “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude Steele, “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers and “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder, among others.

This year’s selection follows the story of two men who share the same name, but vastly different fates. One Wes Moore is considered to be a model citizen — a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran and successful businessman — while the other is in prison for felony murder.

The author, Moore, first saw his counterpart’s name in an article in the Baltimore Sun that chronicled a jewelry store robbery and consequential death of a security guard, according to the book’s website. Moore started questioning his own life path after hearing the story of the other man with the same name.

“The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” delves into both men’s journies, examining the challenges of growing up in modern society and noting the interactions they had and choices they made that led them to where they are today and According to Shugars, it was a good fit for the program, as it examines topics relevant to Tufts’ values.

“[The committee members] read different books and select which one they think will be best for the Tufts community,” she said. “And this book in particular, it really speaks to some of the deep social issues that we’re facing in our country … and is of interest to Tisch College as we think about how to address some of the most pressing problems in our community.”

The book itself also provides an opportunity for readers to take action. Following the epilogue is a resource guide that features a list of organizations available to help young people across the nation. Moore also travels throughout the country speaking to students and using his story as a greater call to action.

According to Laura Doane, associate dean of orientation and student transition, students have been reacting well to the choice of literature.

“Feedback from new students and student leaders thus far has been positive, though limited since many have not yet had the chance to complete the book,” she told the Daily in an email.

There are a number of opportunities for students to discuss the critical issues relevant to the Common Reading book, beginning with their first few days on campus at Undergraduate Orientation.

“The Common Reading Program not only offers students an avenue through which they can engage with other members of their class, but it familiarizes them with the Tufts experience,” Orientation Coordinators Jason Brillon, Jorge Monroy-Palacio and Katelyn Montalvo told the Daily in an email.

According to the coordinators, all orientation leaders are sent a copy of the Common Reading book so they may participate in and help facilitate discussions.

“The Orientation Leaders lead a discussion with their first-year groups on the common reading book, making sure that each first-year’s voice is heard and engaged,” they said.

There is also an essay competition, which further encourages student participation in the campus dialogue. Each winner of the competition will have his or her essay published online and will be awarded a gift certificate to the Tufts bookstore.

Faculty and staff, as well as upperclassmen, are encouraged to read the Common Reading book in order to create a campus-wide dialogue.

Many of the authors of the Common Reading books of past years have visited campus to further the conversation, and Wes Moore will continue the tradition. Moore will be delivering a public lecture on Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. in Cohen Auditorium.


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