The Common Text

The Common Text Program

Each year the university selects a text or texts to launch the academic year for incoming students. At Seattle University, a key part of our mission is “empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” The Common Text program welcomes students to our Ignatian-inspired process of inquiry that emphasizes meaning-making, intellectual risk-taking, and engaging in deep and critical conversations.

Incoming students receive the year’s Common Text over the summer and are asked to read thoughtfully. The issues raised by the text(s) will be incorporated into some classes and pursued in a year-long series of programs built around the themes.

This website introduces this year’s Common Text and provides resources to help you engage with the text as you read and prepare for the year. We will continue to add materials to the site, so check back regularly and be on the lookout for emails from the Common Text team with details on this year’s events.

Welcome to Seattle University, where we wrestle with big ideas!

Common Text 2021

Two years ago, incoming students read Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race. In Fall 2020, students engaged with a suite of digital readings to help us to further understand this historic moment, where renewed calls for racial justice and the protection of Black lives were happening in the midst of a global pandemic. They also anticipated the conversation we will begin this Fall on the meaning of U.S. citizenship, starting with Jose Antonio Vargas’s book, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen. 

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and one of the founders of the nonprofit media and culture organization, Define American. He was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. At 16, when he went to apply for a driver's permit, he learned that his grandparents had brought him to the U.S. using fake papers. Dear America is a memoir tells the story of that discovery, how he navigated systems of employment and government, of the family he built along the way, and what happened when, in 2011, he publicly declared his status as an undocumented citizen.  

But, he says, "this is not a book about the politics of immigration . . . This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense, but the unsettled, unmoored, psychological state that undocumented immigrants like me find ourselves in . . . After twenty-five years of living illegally in a country that does not consider me one of its own, this book is the closest thing I have to freedom" (Dear America, xiii).  

To help you get started, we have provided some background on recent immigration policy and the situation at the southern border of the United States. A brief article and short videos from Define American will demonstrate the range of immigrant experience, documented and undocumented. Finally, Jose Antonio Vargas invites us to consider three questions on citizenship in his 2020 TED Talk. These materials can be found on the The Common Text webpage or as part of your Orientation course on Canvas. 

We hope these texts offer new perspectives, prompt difficult but necessary conversations, and perhaps even inspire action. Please take the time to read, listen, and watch. Then look for Common Text and partner events throughout the year that will provide you with multiple ways to engage these ideas. 

Initial Questions to Consider: 

  • America has often been described as (and described itself as) a "nation of immigrants." How has the national view of immigrants and immigration changed over time, and how would you describe it today? Do you believe that America is still a nation of immigrants? Why or why not? 
  • What is the power of language in describing the eleven million undocumented people in our society? How have you heard immigrants, documented or undocumented, described in the media, by politicians, or in your communities? How might that influence our ideas about immigration and our empathy for immigrants? 
  • Vargas notes that "race, class, and immigration are intertwined, utterly inseparable," and that unlike previous generations, when large numbers of immigrants came from European countries, "most of today's immigrants hail from Asia and Latin America" due to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (p. 132). How might the current calls for racial justice intersect with calls to reform our immigration policies? 
  • What does it mean to be an American? What makes an individual a citizen? And who should get to choose who is and isn't allowed to become an American and live here? (Note: Vargas provides one response to these questions on pp. 199-200 of his book.) 

Introductory Resources

Please begin by reading and viewing the following brief resources. The first two articles may help you understand recent conversations and controversies around the southern border of the United States. Also, as Vargas notes, “mine is only one story, one of an estimated eleven million here in the United States” (p. xv). Hear other stories in the next two resources. Finally, meet Jose Antonio Vargas via the talk he gave at TED2020 and consider what it means to be a U.S. citizen.

Note: Please click on "+" to expand, then click on "Access Articles Here" link to access the articles in their external pages.

Campus Resources

  • TheLemieux Library  offers a number of resources and our dedicated library faculty can help you pursue your research interests: 
  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion publishes annual Summer Reading lists and offers Red Talks throughout the academic year which can be accessed here:
  • Find updates on the Common Text program throughout the year and additional resources here. 
  • The University Core Officehas a limited  number of copies of 2019’s Common Text, So You Want to Talk About RaceContact core@seattleu.edu if you are interested in receiving a copy!