On Jan. 21, 2020, Technician published a news article about how New Student Programs (NSP) is considering changing the “common reading” to a “common experience.” While this decision is still in its early stages, in my opinion, NSP should revamp the common reading, as most students don’t really get around to reading the book assigned every year.
Most universities have a “common experience” to facilitate an increase in interaction among faculty, students and staff through a common theme. There are a number of ways universities can choose to implement this common experience for students, including assigning a common reading, requiring first-years to take a mandatory class, or some form of activity students have to complete throughout the semester or year.
NC State has been assigning different books every year as the common reading, and this year it was “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah. According to the NC State website, this common reading serves the purpose of introducing first-years “to NC State institutional and academic values and expectations, including engagement as members of this community of scholars.”
While the intentions behind implementing a common reading are commendable, the fact of the matter is that it is not being properly implemented into the students’ lives. According to a First Year First Term survey of incoming students in 2018, “only 33% of respondents read the entire common reading book,” as stated in the Technician article mentioned above. As a first-year myself, I can personally attest that while “Born a Crime” is a brilliant book, it is scarcely brought up in most classes, and assignments are rarely given to students to make sure they’ve actually read or understood the book.
Instead of assigning a book that more than half of the student population never reads, NSP should change the common experience to something all first-years actually learn from. For my training as a summer 2020 Orientation Leader, I had to take a class (USC 223) where students are taught, among other things, skills like teamwork, public speaking and the basics of inclusivity, diversity, etc.
NSP could consider designing a short, once-a-week class similar to this for first-years. There are a number of changes students have to go through as they transition from high school to college, and the common experience should aim to help students through this process. A class teaching students about CODA, attendance and grade policies, and opportunities and resources available on campus would definitely help students a lot more than a common reading would. If NSP wanted, it could include a common reading as a part of this class, but there is no point in assigning a book if it is never read or discussed.
Some universities like Texas State University have a list of different events held on campus, which are ultimately tied to a common theme for the academic year. For instance, TSU’s theme for 2019-20 is truth and authenticity, and organizers at the university have a number of panel discussions, art exhibitions, workshops and TED Talks to discuss the theme with students. While the events themselves may not be interconnected, the variety allows all students to choose to participate in the activities they would enjoy the most.
To conclude, the common experience should aim to provide students all the tools they need to succeed at NC State. While the reading does attempt to instill a good set of values in the students, as of now, it isn’t enough and isn’t implemented in any significant way, calling for an urgent need of an upgrade.
Editor’s Note: Giri is employed at New Student Programs