Programs & Events

First Year Reading Program​

The 2017 First Year Reading Program selection will be announced on March 1st, 2017.

First Year Reading Program 2016

Welcome! We're glad you’ve come to learn more about the First Year Reading Program and are excited that you will soon be joining us on campus.

The First Year Reading Program book selected for the Class of 2020 is Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Members of the Class of 2020 will receive a copy of Between the World and Me to their permanent address around the first week of August. If you are attending SOAR 4 & 5 this summer, you will receive your copy when you arrive to campus. 


Between the World and Me.jpg


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.

Key Events

Throughout the academic year, there will be a number of interesting programs and events related to themes in this year's book, Between the World and Me. Keep an eye on the Events section to learn more about what we have planned. Key events include:

Small Group Book Discussions

During Bear Beginnings: New Student Fall Orientation on Friday, August 26th, 2016 at 10:00 AM, all first year students will participate in dynamic group discussions of this year's book.

Assembly Series

Monday, September 26th, 7:00 PM Location: College Hall
Brittany Packnett, Vice President of National Community Alliances, Teach For America


Blackboard Assignment

Part of your participation in the First Year Reading Program requires that you log onto Blackboard, the WUSTL course management portal, and submit a 250 word response to one of the following three questions by Monday, August 15, 2016 at 12:00 PM CST.

Please reference specific pages in your response:

1. From the first word of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, the reader is aware that the author is addressing his son with both love and fear for the vulnerability of his black body. As the book develops, he addresses his son at greater length and in increasingly personal ways. What do you find are the most important perspectives or lessons the father passes on to his son, even as he recognizes that they are a generation apart? Example: “I am sorry that I cannot save you… I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world” (107-108)

2. Coates often refers to a certain group Americans as those “who believe that they are white.” What concept is Coates conveying with this phrase and for what end does he use it?

3. What does Coates mean when he speaks about the “Dream” and those who are living in it?

4. What reductions of a person to their culture (be it in language, appearance, or practice) are you familiar with? What reductions did you learn about in Between the World and Me? From your experiences so far, how might a student at WashU be subject to a similar reduction?

You will find your FYRP discussion section listed on Blackboard (bb.wustl.edu) under “My Courses.” Your submission will only be visible to the faculty or staff member leading your discussion group.


Technical Support
Should you encounter any difficulties, please contact Student Technology Services by email or phone at 314.935.7100.

FYRP History

FYRP History

The First Year Reading Program aims:

• to introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University in St. Louis 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.

Past FYRP Books


2015: Citizen: An American Lyric

by Claudia Rankine

book cover 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

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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

Book Jacket of The Other 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

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Book jacket of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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

Book jacket of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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 www.themuslimguy.com, 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

Book jacket of When the Emperor Was Divine 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

Book jacket of Field Notes from a Catastrophe 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

Book jacket of Einstein's Dreams

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

Book jacket of One Nation Underprivileged

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

Book jacket of Brown

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

Book jacket of Freedom 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

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Book jacket of Washington University 150th Anniversary Celebration Book of Common Readings

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.

 


Letter from the Provost

Welcome


Dear Class of 2020,

On behalf of the University’s Faculty and the 2016 First Year 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 First Year 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.

On Friday, August 26th, as part of the 14th annual First Year Reading Program, you will be participating in what we anticipate will be a dynamic and thought-provoking discussion of the book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In the aftermath of Ferguson, few subjects could be more relevant to students arriving in St. Louis than the themes of Black Lives Matter, which Coates powerfully restates and personalizes. There couldn’t be a better time or place to discuss this book.

It is a powerful story of parent and child. Because Coates is writing to his son, you might silently compare some of the author's assertions with messages now arriving from home. "I owe you everything I have,” Coates says. “I had nothing but my own skin in the game and that was nothing at all.... should I now go down, I would not go down alone."

Coates discusses in depth the unexamined versions of the American Dream and whether it is still alive, and if so, if it is what stands between the world and him and many others. Regardless of your major, you will contemplate here the future of our democracy and whether it is available to all.

In your studies here, we’ll also be talking to you about the great problems of the world. Those underlying our approach to identity are certainly among the greatest facing society. But so are climate change, inequality, hunger, international conflict and disease. This sounds heavy, but it isn’t for us because we believe in the energy and optimism that you are bringing to education and all the great work you will do at WashU and beyond.

Welcome, Bears. Let’s get started.


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

Reader's Guide
Links & Resources

Links & Resources

If you have other resources you think should be shared on this page, please feel free to e-mail them to fyrp@wustl.edu. 

  • Listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates discuss the creation of Marvel's Black Panther comics and the impact he hopes it has in this interview with NPR.
  • Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' work on culture, politics, and social issues in The Atlantic.
  • Read The Beautiful Struggle​, Ta-Nehisi Coates' coming-of-age memoir.
  • Check out this article by Suhas Gondi, Class of 2017, in In Training: "Why Black Lives Matter Ought to Matter to Medical Students"​.
  • In linguistics, "code-switching" means mixing languages or patterns of speech in conversation. Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We're hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction. Code Switch is a blog project run by six NPR journalists who cover topics of race, ethnicity and culture.
  • The Race Card Project explores a different kind of conversation about race. We ask people to think about their experiences, observations, triumphs, laments, theories or anthem about race or cultural identity. Then they take those thoughts and distill them down to one six-word sentence.
  • Listen to interesting short NPR Morning Edition pieces based on The Race Card Project.
  • A Girl Like Me is a short piece explores the way racial stereotypes influence the self-image of African American young women and children. Davis interviews teenage black women about their experience with racialized standards of beauty, and replicates the Kenneth Clark Doll Test, to show how black girls and boys to this day associate whiteness with beauty and virtue and blackness with ugliness and vice.

Courses

If you are interested in studying topics related to those discussed in Between the World and Me, then look into registering for any of the following courses offered at WashU on your WEBSTAC account:

  • L98 AMCS 2250 Freshman Seminar: African-American Women's History: Sexuality, Violence, and the Love of Hip-Hop
  • L98 AMCS 248 Latino/a Experiences in the United States
  • L98 AMCS 3173 Queer Histories
  • L98 AMCS 3632 Mapping the World of "Black Criminality"
  • L98 AMCS 3671 The Long Civil Rights Movement
  • L84 Lw St 131F Present Moral Problems
  • L77 WGSS 100B Introduction to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • L77 WGSS 3255  Black Masculinities
  • L90 AFAS 1002 Foundations in African & African-American Studies
  • L90 AFAS 3542 The Quest for Racial Reconciliation
  • 90 AFAS 421A From Mammy to the Welfare Queen: African American Women Theorize Identity
  • W74 LAW 769E Civil Rights, Community Justice and Mediation Clinic

If you have any additional events you'd like to add to the list, please e-mail details to fyrp@wustl.edu.


First Year Reading Program Facilitated Book Discussions

Friday, August 26, 2016

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Various Locations

All first-year and transfer students will participate in dynamic group discussions of this year's book. Discussion leaders and discussion locations will be assigned according to student residential areas.


Assembly Series: Brittany Packnett, Vice President of National Community Alliances, Teach For America

Monday, September 26, 2016

7:00 PM

College Hall



Contest


2016 Contest Details

For this year’s contest, we invite you to write your own letter to the person of your choosing concerning any lessons, experiences, or struggles you have encountered around difference and/or inequality. Your submission may be created in written format, video, photography, art piece, music or any other creative medium that can be submitted electronically for judging. If you are submitting a written entry, please limit it to a maximum length of 1,500 words.

The contest is open to all members of the Washington University Class of 2020. Please e-mail your submission to fyrp@wustl.edu by Monday, August 15th at noon CST.

The top five contest winners will have lunch with our special guest speaker on Monday, September 26, 2016 at the Whittemore House, the private faculty and staff dining club. The grand prize winner will also win a $100 gift certificate from the Washington University Campus Bookstore.

The contest is optional but we hope you’ll consider including a submission!

2013 First Year Reading Program Winners

with Notes from No Man's Land author, Eula Biss

The contest winners: Manasa Subramani, Danny Washelesky, CJ Harrington, Eula Biss, Sherelle Li, Jessica Sun


First Prize Contest Entry

Essence by Danny Wash

For Families

Dear 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 First Year Reading Program.

The First Year Reading Program will serve as your student's entry into the world of academia. Before leaving home, students will read the book Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and will be challenged to think creatively and submit an entry for the First Year Reading Program contest. In doing so, incoming students will receive a taste of the exciting academic and intellectual adventures yet to come.

On Friday, August 26th, as part of the 14th annual First Year Reading Program, students will participate in dynamic and thought-provoking small-group discussions of the book led by key University faculty and staff. Additional programming events related to the themes explored in the book will continue throughout the academic year.


The First Year 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 First Year Reading Program faculty-led discussions and to share your own thoughts related to Between the World and Me. 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 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.

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal/purpose of the First Year Reading Program?

The First Year 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 by the First Year 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 First Year Reading Program mandatory?

All first year students are required to attend the small group book discussions on Friday, August 26th with their residential college floors. All other FYRP-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 First Year Reading Program an isolated event, or will there be other related activities?

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

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

The Washington University campus bookstore carries copies of Between the World and Me.

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 First Year Reading Program discussion?

On Friday, August 26th, 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 program. The First Year Reading Program small group book discussions will take place in the morning from 10:00 AM - Noon.

What should I bring to my First Year 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 First Year Reading Program at Washington University?

This is the 14th annual First Year Reading Program at Washington University. Please visit the About page for more FYRP history.

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

Check out the resources links on the Reader's Guide page.

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

Please send an e-mail to FYRP@wustl.edu for answers to any other questions not listed here.

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