Around Campus: 2011-2012 Common Experience

Bobcats explore First Amendment freedoms with Common Experience

By Catherine Harper

The freedoms defined in the U.S. Bill of Rights are fundamental aspects of our nation’s law that impact our daily lives. The 2011-2012 Common Experience theme at Texas State University, “Freedoms: The First Amendment,” will explore the basic freedoms outlined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in a shared conversation with the Texas State community.

The Common Experience, an annual series of events started in 2004, is an expanding and growing tradition at Texas State with changing topics each year. It engages students, faculty and the wider community in a conversation about a selected theme through cross-campus and multi-organizational events.

“The intentional connecting of many facets of university life is the kind of project that a small private liberal arts college might take on,” says Texas State University President Denise Trauth. “But we cannot find evidence of a large public university ever having undertaken something so ambitious and encompassing.”

According to Dr. Trauth, the Common Experience expanded to involve the Texas State community as a whole.

“Early on, the vision was to connect entering students to a shared conversation,” Trauth says. “But it quickly grew to include upper-level classes, student support services, campus activities, performing arts, and the San Marcos schools and community.”

The 2004-2005 Common Experience theme was Hatred with the summer reading book Night by Elie Wiesel. Subsequent themes have been Courage; Protest and Dissent; The Water Planet; Civic Responsibility and the Legacy of LBJ, in honor of the university’s most famous graduate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States; The Whole Mind: Crossing Boundaries of Disciplines; and Sustainability: Science, Policy, and Opportunity.

With renowned speakers, symposia and powerful text, the 2011-2012 theme will explore the meaning and relevance of First Amendment freedoms of expression, press, assembly and religion.

To prepare for this year’s Common Experience, students read “The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation” by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, which provides a visual context to the Founding Fathers’ establishment of the First Amendment.

On October 5, 2011, CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien will join the conversation as the featured LBJ Distinguished Lecturer and Common Experience Speaker for the fall semester. O’Brien’s depth of experience in the media includes ground-breaking and award-winning journalism around the world, and being part of CNN’s “Best Political Team on Television.”

The main event of the spring semester will feature musicians, dancers and actors from The Juilliard School in their sixth annual performance at Texas State entitled “Juilliard Joins Texas State for a Common Experience in the Arts” on March 8, 2012. The event will feature a collaboration with Texas State’s outstanding performers in the School of Music and will be directed by Texas State alumnus and award-winning composer, pianist and Juilliard faculty member Dr. Wayne Oquin.

Other events for this semester’s Common Experience include:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 6, Discourse in Democracy: “Remembering 9/11,” 7 – 9 p.m. at LBJ Student Center Teaching Theater. Taryn Davis, a Texas State alumna and founder of the American Widow Project, will speak. Read more about Davis here.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 9, Panel Discussion: “Politics, Values and Religion” with Dr. Arnold Leder and guests, 7 – 9 p.m. at Evans Liberal Arts, room 118. Dr. Leder will lead an in-depth discussion of the role politics, values and religion play in shaping the way Americans think and interact with their government on a daily basis. Co-sponsored by Pi Sigma Alpha.
  • Thursday, Dec. 1, Expressions from the Quilt: AIDS Memorial Quilt Display, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. in LBJ Student Center Ballroom. Begun in 1987, the AIDS quilt is a memorial, a mode of education, and a work of art. It is an eloquent instance of the First Amendment in action, of a struggle for a voice, for inclusion and for recognition. Browse multiple panels of the quilt on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2011. For more information email or call 512.245.8477.

For more information about events and activities planned for the 2011-2012 academic year, please visit the Common Experience website.

For suggestions and questions about engaging in the Common Experience, contact Dr. Pam Wuestenberg (, Ms. Diann McCabe (, or Dr. Nico Schüler (

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