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RWU Common Reading Program

The Common Reading Program at RWU provides an introduction to academic life at the University for our new students and serves as a vehicle to bring the community together over a shared intellectual endeavor. This program was started in 2006 and has become a tradition that promotes the importance of academics, community, and discourse.  Each year the Common Reading Selection Committee meets to discuss possible books and carefully considers themes and topics that are integral to student learning, academic exploration and discussion. The authors of the selected books are invited to campus to provide a lecture and to participate in related activities, including classroom discussions. The result is a program that encourages new students, upperclassmen, and faculty and staff to explore interesting topics together and to share a common experience during the first weeks of the new semester each year.

Books that have been selected over the years have included:

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 2006
Along Way Gone by Ishmael Beah 2007
The Working Poor by David Shipler 2008
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 2009
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder 2010
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins 2011
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 2012
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick 2013
The Circle by Dave Eggers


2015 Common Reading Selection

Join the Roger Williams University entering class and our entire academic community as we read In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. 

In the Shadow of the Banyan explores the Cambodian people’s resilience and perseverance despite forced exodus into labor camps, torture and starvation brought on by the rise of the Khmer Rouge – which killed at least 1.7 million people – through the eyes of a 7-year-old-girl. Composed with poetic language and mythical tales, the story reveals that young Raami’s privileged existence – protected within the walls of her family’s royal compound – is far from what others were experiencing in the cities and countryside across Cambodia in the mid 1970s. But as the communist revolution sweeps the country, their royal bloodline cannot insulate them from the rebellion, and Raami’s family joins in the fight to survive.

Published in 2012, the book mirrors Ratner’s experiences as a young girl who lived through the communist uprising in Cambodia.

“By viewing the story through the eyes of a young character, students will be able to make a connection to historical events that may be far from their experiences, but in a way that allows them to envision themselves in that story,” says Director of the University Honors Program Becky Spritz, a member of the Common Reading Committee. “Fiction allows us to not distance ourselves from events that we’re reading about, and instead, to connect and be pulled into the story.”

 In choosing a work of fiction that chronicles real events, the committee hopes to instill an appreciation of global perspectives and different cultures while exposing students to social justice issues that are endemic around the world, Spritz says.

The Common Reading program is an important part of the First Year Experience at Roger Williams.  First Year Experience programming will be focused on encouraging students to experience academic engagement inside and outside the classroom, learn to think critically, value service and civic engagement, and use services and resources that will make them successful student scholars.

Throughout the academic year, the University will explore In the Shadow of the Banyan through a series of events, including a visit to Roger Williams University from author Vaddey Ratner on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 at 7pm.


Copies of In the Shadow of the Banyon will be distributed to all new students at New Student Orientation in June.