Chosen by a selection committee of students, faculty, and staff, the Common Reading Program book is an interesting and stimulating read around which your first academic exercise at Washington University will be based. First-year students are invited to read the book before your arrival on campus and explore its themes in your mind.

The Common Reading Program book selected for the Class of 2024 will be released in Spring 2020.

The Washington University Common Reading Program aims:

  • To provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, as well as participating members of the faculty and staff.
  • To provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with a member of the Washington University faculty or staff in an informal discussion, outside the boundaries of the classroom and formal academic requirements.
  • To introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University academic community.

Chosen by a selection committee of students, faculty, and staff, the Common Reading Program book is an interesting and stimulating read around which your first academic exercise at Washington University will be based. We invite you to read the book before your arrival on campus and explore its themes in your mind. What do you think? What are your opinions? What would you like to ask your new classmates or professors?

During Bear Beginnings: New Student Fall Orientation, you will participate in a faculty or staff led discussion of the book along with students from your first-year residential floor. We urge you to approach the Common Reading Program discussions in the spirit of openness and the delight of discovery. This is a unique and valuable opportunity to challenge yourself, share your ideas, learn about different viewpoints and meet and engage in dialogue with your classmates and a university faculty member or other member of the university community. There are no right or wrong answers, no grades, and diverse viewpoints and perspectives will be encouraged and respected. The more involved you choose to be, the more you will take away from this experience.

Throughout the first semester, you will encounter themes from the book in classes, discussions, and engaging on-campus programming. Happy reading!


Originally named the First Year Reading Program, this initiative began in the fall of 2003 to provide first-year students a shared intellectual experience to start their academic career at WashU.  The program was re-named the Washington University Common Reading Program in spring 2017 as the program now supports discussions among first-year students, parents & families, and alumni groups around the world.

Past Book Selections

2018: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during China’s infamous Cultural Revolution. There they meet the daughter of a local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined.

2017: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Written by an eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus introduces us to the lives of young scientist Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. After entering the throes of higher education, Frankenstein becomes consumed with discovering the secret to life itself. When the Creature comes alive with a bolt of electricity one night, Shelley takes the reader on a journey of wonder and horror as Frankenstein and the Creature learn to navigate life in their small village.

Reaching its 200th year of publication in the 2017-2018 academic year, Shelley’s novel still impacts a variety of contemporary issues from biomedical ethics to otherness to popular culture.

2016: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In this exceptional and somber work, acclaimed author and journalist for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, speaks through a letter to his son to explore the many—often tragic—experiences of being black in the United States of America. Coates blends elements of memoir, symbolism, and historical ruminations to convey the fear black parents feel for their children, the fragility of the black body in the face of systemic violence, and the chances of achieving substantive racial progress in the 21st century. Continuing in the seminal style of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Coates challenges the reader to observe the state of race in the US through a skeptical and critical lens, offering up the future as an ominous state of affairs for this generation to struggle with and shape.

Between the World and Me has received near universal acclaim from many, was the winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

2015: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine ​
In this remarkable and timely work, acclaimed author and Pomona College professor, Claudia Rankine, uses poetry, essay, cultural criticism, and visual images to explore what it means to be an American citizen in a “post-racial” society. Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV — everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

2014: Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino​ ​
In this remarkable and elegant work, acclaimed NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino fuses legal manifesto and poetic memoir to call for a redefinition of civil rights in our law and culture.
Everyone covers. To cover is to downplay a disfavored trait so as to blend into the mainstream. Because all of us possess stigmatized attributes, we all encounter pressure to cover in our daily lives. Given its pervasiveness, we may experience this pressure to be a simple fact of social life. Yoshino’s argument draws deeply on his personal experiences as a gay Asian American. He follows the Romantics in his belief that if a human life is described with enough particularity, the universal will speak through it. The result is a work that combines one of the most moving memoirs written in years with a landmark manifesto on the civil rights of the future.

2013: Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
In this series of forthright essays, Biss sets out to examine issues of race and identity in America through the lens of history and of family. She makes links between lynching and the spread of the telephone, both of which required tall straight poles in public places. She considers the legacy of Reconstruction in public school systems, particularly the New York City classrooms where she teaches, and questions the instruction to make her students “better people.” She remembers the white and black dolls she shared with her sister in light of the famous Doll Studies of Mamie and Kenneth Clark, and she rereads Laura Ingalls Wilder as she settles into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Throughout, Biss acknowledges her own assumptions and privileges. Never hesitating to ask difficult questions and face the sometimes-embarrassing answers, she still remains hopeful about the possibilities of diversity. – Graywolf Press

2012: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world. (Random House, Inc.)
Author, Wes Moore visited campus and engaged with students during the day in various settings before delivering his Assembly Series lecture, which was standing room only.

2011: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Set during the “Siege of Sarajevo” (1992-96), this forceful but quietly spoken novel puts us at the side of ordinary citizens as they venture out in the city to buy bread or refill water jugs, uncertain whether a sniper or artillery shell will make their next step their last. In memory of 22 fellow citizens killed in a single attack, a cellist, in full sight of the attackers, sends up his music for 22 days to the hills where they hide, and to the heavens.

Author, Steven Galloway visited campus and delivered the First Year Reading Program Assembly Series talk. He also met with several small groups of students to discuss the book, his life as an author, and other related topics.

2010: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
In this engaging and suspenseful novel, a young Pakistani man tells his story to an American over a meal in a Lahore marketplace. The book explores complex themes of culture, identity, profiling, coming of age, and the immigrant experience.

Political commentator, human rights lawyer, Washington University alumnus and founder of, Arsalan Iftikhar visited campus and participated in several sessions with students. He also delivered the First Year Reading Program Assembly Series talk.

2009: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Author Julie Otsuka, visited campus and interacted with students in small group settings. She also gave an Assembly Series address to the campus community.

2008: Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
Growing out of a groundbreaking three-part series in The New Yorker (which won the 2005 National Magazine Award in the Public Interest category), Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, brings the environment into focus and asks, “What, if anything, can be done to save our planet?”

2007: Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
Einstein’s Dreams is a series of vignettes set in the spring of 1905, just as Einstein was formulating his theory of relativity. Each vignette presents a vision of time that might have passed through Einstein’s mind during this period. This book challenges the reader to stretch his or her imagination about time, to question ordinary assumptions, and to consider how conceptions of time shape human understanding of ourselves and our world.
Author, Alan Lightman visited campus and had the opportunity to dine with student winners of the “Finish the Story” contest. He also addressed the campus community in an Assembly Series lecture.

2006: One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All by Mark R. Rank
In conjunction with the Danforth Campus dedication and the theme “A Higher Sense of Purpose,” One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All, by Mark R. Rank was selected as the 2006 First Year Reading Program book.

Mark R. Rank is the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. He is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts and speakers in the country on issues of poverty, inequality, and social justice.

In the book, Rank examines and dissects the issue of poverty in American and shows that the fundamental causes of poverty are to be found in our economic structure and political policy failures, rather than individual shortcomings or attitudes. He demonstrates that a significant percentage of Americans will experience poverty during their adult lifetimes and suggests a new paradigm for understanding and addressing national poverty.

Professor Rank addressed students in an Assembly Series lecture.

2005: “The Achievement of Desire” from Hunger of Memory and “Poor Richard” from Brown both by Richard Rodriguez

In 2005 the First Year Reading Program Steering Group chose two works by essayist and public commentator, Richard Rodriguez. Students read Rodriguez’s book, Brown, in their Writing I Class, and had the opportunity to hear Rodriguez speak about racial and cultural assimilation in America when he came to campus in October. Many students met with Rodriguez, had dinner with him and continued the dialogue throughout his two-day visit.

2004: Freedom: A Book of Common Readings, Multiple authors
In anticipation of the 2004 election and the Presidential Candidates’ debate at Washington University, the 2004 Book of Common Readings was anchored by The Declaration of Independence, one of the most important texts in political history both within and outside the United States. Accompanying primary texts by Frederick Douglas and others stimulated critical thinking about the Declaration and its legacy in debates about liberty, equality and justice. Professor Dan Shea’s introduction to the book challenged students to “claim their education.”

2003: Washington University 150th Anniversary Celebration Book of Common Readings, Multiple authors
In 2003, Washington University celebrated its 150th anniversary. The theme of this sesquicentennial year was “Treasuring the Past, Shaping the Future.” In keeping with that theme, a group of faculty and administrators developed a book of common readings for new students focused on the history and meaning of education.

The book, consisting of essays, poems and excerpts of longer work, included pieces by Washington University founder William Greenleaf Elliot, Washington University professor Gerald Early, W.E.B. DuBois and bell hooks.

New students met in small groups with members of the faculty to discuss the book of common readings and examine their goals for their own education. The cover of the book was designed by Washington University students from the College of Art.

Digital Copy Access

A physical copy of the book will be mailed to all domestic students in June. If you are unable to receive a physical book or if you would prefer a digital copy, you can access a digital copy from the University Library.

Please use the link below to gain access to a digital copy of the 2019 Common Reading book Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen through the University Libraries catalog.

From the book’s page in the catalog click on “Connect to: WUSTL full text” underneath the book information at the top of the page.

Reader’s Guide

The Reader’s Guide for the Class of 2023 will be mailed to your permanent address and should arrive by the second week of July.

Letter from the Provost

Dear Class of 2023,

On behalf of the university’s faculty and the 2019 Common Reading Program, we welcome you to Washington University! We’re very excited you will soon be joining us, and we are busy preparing for your arrival.

The Common Reading Program initiates your intellectual college experience and highlights the essence of your education – habits of inquiry and debate that underlie effective citizenship in communities beyond the self. Throughout the first semester, you will encounter themes from the book in classes, discussions, and on-campus programming.

As part of the 17th annual Common Reading Program, you will be participating in what we anticipate will be a dynamic and thought-provoking discussion of the book, HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, by Nadine Strossen.

Strossen, a professor of constitutional law at New York Law School and prominent civil liberties advocate, argues that in divisive times, we should engage deeply in our democracy, defending, rather than limiting, free speech. She addresses common misperceptions that have permeated the debate surrounding hate speech and free speech siting both national and international examples. Strossen encourages readers to engage, not through censorship, but through informed “counterspeech.” Regardless of your academic interests or extracurricular passions, while at WashU you have the opportunity to engage deeply in meaningful dialogues.

In your studies here, you will address the great problems of the world. Those underlying our approach to how we communicate with one another are certainly among the greatest facing society. But so are climate change, inequity, hunger, international conflict, and disease. These are difficult topics, but we believe in the passion and fortitude that you bring to education and all the great work you will do at WashU and beyond.

Welcome, Bears. Let’s get started.

Holden Thorp Signature

Holden Thorp
Provost and Rita Levi-Montalcini Distinguished University Professor
Departments of Chemistry and Medicine
Washington University in St. Louis

Lori White Signature

Lori S. White, Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Professor of Practice, Department of Education
Washington University in St. Louis

Letter from a Student Leader

Dear Class of 2023,

In her award-winning book, Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, Nadine Strossen explores ideas and challenges regarding the regulation of hate speech. These ideas are pertinent to you as you start your journey at WashU. Strossen states that hate speech laws should not be created beyond the laws the United States currently upholds. Although many of Strossen’s arguments start with constitutionality, she moves on to question the effectiveness of stopping what some call hate speech versus the effectiveness of counter-speech. During Bear Beginnings, you will discuss, debate, and engage these concepts with your peers in a conversation guided by a faculty member. This program serves as the first of many academic traditions you will take part of as you start your WashU experience.

College will be a very transformative experience for you and we look forward to being a part of it. It is my hope that at WashU you will continue to build your voice and not just prepare, but also begin to make a positive impact on the world. I encourage you to create positive change in society by taking Strossen’s challenge to “exercise what is the most essential right of all…the right not to remain silent.”

Welcome to WashU! See you on campus!

Lizzie Michalski
Class of 2021

About the Book

From the Oxford University Press:

HATE dispels misunderstandings plaguing our perennial debates about “hate speech vs. free speech,” showing that the First Amendment approach promotes free speech and democracy, equality, and societal harmony. We hear too many incorrect assertions that “hate speech” — which has no generally accepted definition — is either absolutely unprotected or absolutely protected from censorship. Rather, U.S. law allows government to punish hateful or discriminatory speech in specific contexts when it directly causes imminent serious harm. Yet, government may not punish such speech solely because its message is disfavored, disturbing, or vaguely feared to possibly contribute to some future harm. When U.S. officials formerly wielded such broad censorship power, they suppressed dissident speech, including equal rights advocacy. Likewise, current politicians have attacked Black Lives Matter protests as “hate speech.” 

“Hate speech” censorship proponents stress the potential harms such speech might further: discrimination, violence, and psychic injuries. However, there has been little analysis of whether censorship effectively counters the feared injuries. Citing evidence from many countries, this book shows that “hate speech” laws are at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive. Their inevitably vague terms invest enforcing officials with broad discretion, and predictably, regular targets are minority views and speakers. Therefore, prominent social justice advocates in the U.S. and beyond maintain that the best way to resist hate and promote equality is not censorship, but rather, vigorous “counterspeech” and activism. 

The Author

Nadine Strossen is Professor of Constitutional Law at New York Law School and the first woman national President of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she served from 1991 through 2008. A frequent speaker on constitutional and civil liberties issues, her media appearances include 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The Daily Show, and other news programs on CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, Al-Jazeera, and in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Her op-eds have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and USA Today, among others.

Oxford University Press. (n.d.). HATE Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. Retreived from


Part of your participation in the Common Reading Program requires that you email your discussion leader a 250-word response to one of the following questions by Tuesday, August 13th at Noon CST. We will send you the name and contact information for your group discussion leader in early August. Your submission will only be read by the faculty or staff member leading your discussion group.

  1. Using examples from HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship and media coverage of current U.S. higher education topics, illustrate how themes of freedom of expression will intersect with your experiences as a student at Washington University in Saint Louis.
  2. In HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, Strossen argues that hate speech is an inherently subjective concept.  Using examples from the book and media coverage of current U.S. higher education topics, present your argument on the subjective or objective nature of hate speech.
  3. Describe how “counterspeech” could be used to address current divisions within our society, cite examples from the book andcurrent events.  Discuss whether you believe “counterspeech” could be used to positively impact a divided community.
  4. Do you think that HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship presents a valid argument for engaging in more dialogue on important issues?  Cite examples from the book andcurrent events to argue your perspective.

Please contact 314-935-5050 or


Strossen argues the importance of addressing ideas that we disagree with using “counterspeech” rather than censorship. Throughout history, individuals and communities have used creative mediums to express their own “counterspeech”. Examples of dissent abound in creative mediums as diverse as operas, pop art, poetry, T.V., fiction, and cartoons. Using any creative medium (visual art, poetry, music, written prose etc.) produce a piece of “counterspeech” that demonstrates your opposition to an idea. If you are submitting a written entry, please limit it to a maximum length of 750 words. The contest is open to all members of the Washington University Class of 2023.

First year students are encouraged to email their submissions to by Friday, August 30th at Noon CST. It was previously planned that the top five contest winners would have the opportunity for a special meet and greet with the Common Program Reading Program Assembly Series Speaker. However, since Nadine Strossen’s visit will take place prior to the contest due date, students who submit entries prior to Wednesday, August 21st at 5pm CST will be selected from to attend a dinner with Professor Strossen after the Reflections event on Monday, August 26th and the top 5 selected from all entries will be invited to attend an alternate celebration dinner. Additionally, the grand prize winner will also receive a $100 shopping spree at the Washington University Campus Store.

Reflections Program Question Submission

First Day of Class August 26th 4:00-6:00pm
Keynote Speech from Nadine Strossen followed by a fireside chat with Chancellor Andrew Martin and remarks by Dr. Lori White. A book signing and reception will follow.
First Year Students have the opportunity to ask a question at the event and attend a dinner with the author by submitting their questions to before 5pm on Wednesday, August 21st, the day after the Common Reading Program discussion. Please encourage them to submit their questions as well as entries for annual Common Reading Program contest.



Tuesday, August 13th at Noon CST

Email Assignment Due

Friday, August 30th at Noon CST

Contest Submission Due

To Be Announced:

Common Reading Program Assembly Series Speaker

For Parents & Families

Dear parents & families,

Your student will soon be heading off to Washington University. As a parent or family member, you are likely experiencing many of the same feelings of pride, nervousness, and excitement as your child. While you and your family savor the last few pre-University months, we are busy preparing to welcome your student to the Washington University community with many interesting and thought-provoking programs which will take place during Bear Beginnings: New Student Fall Orientation and beyond. One such activity is the Common Reading Program.

The Common Reading Program will serve as your student’s entry into the world of academia. Before leaving home, students will read the book HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen.  Your student will be challenged to think creatively and encouraged to submit an entry for the Common Reading Program contest. In doing so, incoming students will receive a taste of the exciting academic and intellectual adventures yet to come.

On Wednesday, August 21st, as part of the 17th annual Common Reading Program, students will participate in dynamic and thought-provoking small-group discussions of the book led by University faculty and staff. Additional programming events related to the themes explored in the book will continue throughout the academic year.

The Common Reading Program aims:

  • to introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University academic community.
  • to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, as well as participating members of the faculty and staff.
  • to provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with a member of the Washington University faculty in an informal discussion, outside the boundaries of the classroom and formal academic requirements.

During Parent & Family Weekend, you will have the opportunity to participate in a recap of what happened during the Common Reading Program faculty-led discussions and to share your own thoughts related to HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. Members of the Washington University faculty will provide information on the program, share what transpired in their individual discussion groups and discuss their perspectives on the book. All parents & families are encouraged to attend and participate in the event. As more information about the event becomes available, it will be posted on the Parent & Family Weekend website.

Additional information about parent and family events, campus news and resources, ways you can give back to the university community and contact information can be found on the First Year Center Parent and Family Resources Website.


What is the goal/purpose of the Common Reading Program?

The Common Reading Program aims:

  • to introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University academic community.
  • to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, as well as participating members of the faculty and staff.
  • to provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with a member of the Washington University faculty in an informal discussion, outside the boundaries of the classroom and formal academic requirements.

How are the reading program books selected?

Book suggestions are collected from students, faculty, and staff and are then reviewed and narrowed down by the Common Reading Program Steering Committee. Finalists are often offered in the January Reading Program, an opt-in book discussion program open to all student levels and offered in partnership with the Congress of the South 40. Feedback is collected from students and discussion leaders participating in the January Reading Program. After the Steering Committee debates the relative merits and challenges of each of the finalist texts, a winner is ultimately chosen.

Is my participation in the Common Reading Program mandatory?

All first-year students are required to attend the small group book discussions on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 with their residential college floors. All other CRP-related events are optional, but we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities to attend and experience the myriad of offered programs.

Is the Common Reading Program an isolated event, or will there be other related activities?

Throughout the year, there will be events and activities related to the Common Reading Program. A schedule of the events can be found on the Events page.

I lost/forgot my book. What should I do?

Copies of Hate: Why We Should We Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship are available at Olin Library.

Who will be facilitating my discussion group? Can I select my Small Group Discussion Leader?

Your Small Group Discussion Leader will be assigned based on your residential college floor. Regrettably, we cannot allow you to change sections or request a specific discussion leader.

How will I know where to go for my Common Reading Program discussion?

On Monday, August 19, 2019, your Residential Advisor (RA) and Washington University Student Associate (WUSA) will notify you of your small group book discussion location and will accompany you and your floormates to the discussion. The Common Reading Program small group book discussions will take place in the afternoon from 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM.

What should I bring to my Common Reading Program discussion?

Please come prepared with:

  1. Your book
  2. Something to write on
  3. Something to write with
  4. An open mind

What is the history of the Common Reading Program at Washington University?

This is the 17th annual Common Reading Program at Washington University. Learn more about the CRP history.

What additional resources can I use to educate myself on the themes covered in the book?

Check out the resources tab above.

If I have any other questions, who can I ask?

Contact the Common Reading Program for answers to any other questions not listed here.