Since 1997, incoming first-year students at Appalachian State University have been asked to read a book as part of their orientation to the university. By participating in the Common Reading Program, students establish a common experience with other new students that will help develop a sense of community with their new environment and introduce them to a part of the academic life they are beginning at Appalachian. This program is an exciting facet in Appalachian's orientation of new students to life on campus.
The Common Reading Program at Appalachian State is pleased to announce the 2019-20 book selection: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. “Just Mercy” details the injustices of a broken criminal justice system that punishes impoverished people, and Stevenson’s work to improve that system.
For the past 22 years, the Common Reading Program Committee has selected a book for incoming first-year students to read together in order to jump-start intellectual engagement both inside and outside the classroom. “The Common Reading Committee selected ‘Just Mercy’ for its relevance to a wide range of academic disciplines and because Stevenson’s work has had a profound impact on our society,” said Dr. Martha McCaughey, director of the Common Reading Program.
Stevenson, a graduate of Harvard Law School and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, has dedicated his career as a public interest lawyer to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.
EJI has exonerated innocent death row prisoners, won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, aided children prosecuted as adults, and opposed the abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill. Stevenson successfully argued in the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory life without parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Most recently, with EJI, Stevenson founded the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as the Lynching Memorial, in Montgomery.
All incoming students received a copy of “Just Mercy” when they came to campus for 2019 Summer Orientation and discussed the book during Welcome Weekend in August.
Students will remain engaged with the book and its themes throughout the academic year, in their First Year Seminar courses and at co-curricular events throughout the year, such as faculty panel discussions organized by the Department of Government and Justice Studies and the Department of Sociology.
Stevenson gave a public talk on Appalachian's campus in fall 2019.