I can remember the weeks before starting school at Skidmore College, furiously trying to finish Gregory Howard Williams’ memoir, Life on the Color Line. The book was assigned as our freshman reading assignment — part of the First-Year Experience at the liberal arts school in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Four years later, Williams spoke at our graduation.
Lots of colleges have these common reading programs — some just for freshmen, and, for others, the entire campus or local community joins in. The idea is that books will stir discussion — and unite a class or campus around a topic. Some schools even have the author speak on campus, or weave the book’s content into the year’s curriculum.
Last year, these programs made the news — over controversy around defunding them.
But the programs are still prevalent around the country, for schools big and small. Last year, the National Association of Scholars looked at 341 colleges and universities and the 231 books they assigned.
The books are often selected by the campus — by professors, current students and the incoming class, or a combination. They tend to be contemporary reads: NAS’s 2014 report found that more than half of the books assigned were published after 2010.
In recent years, schools have featured books like Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.
This year’s selections cover a range of topics; many are nonfiction, and several focus on race, sex and other social issues.
From a community college in Kentucky to a liberal arts campus in Wisconsin, here are a few of the reading assignments for this year’s freshmen.