The Common Read program is designed to provide all new first-year students with a common intellectual experience around a theme of Catholic Social Teaching to encourage a sense of community among students, faculty and staff. This year’s theme is Life and Dignity of the Human Person; the program also will incorporate the Jubilee of Mercy declared by the Pope for December 2015 through November 2016.
The 2016-2017 book selection — Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson — was chosen by a committee comprising faculty, staff, and students charged with selecting a text that is interdisciplinary, global, recently published, and relatable to both first-year students and the Elms College community.
Just Mercy tells Stevenson’s story of founding the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of Stevenson’s first cases as a lawyer was that of Walter McMillian, a young man sentenced to die for a murder he insisted he had not committed. McMillan’s case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
This book is an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.
All first year students are required to complete the Common Read book, and engage in writing and discussion during the First Year Seminar class, highlighting how the book’s context is interwoven with the theme of Dignity of the Human Person, as well as mercy.
- “We Need to Talk About an Injustice,” Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk on the justice system
- Bryan Stevenson on The Daily Show
- “Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison,” a video from the EJI