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IU Southeast explores issues of social justice in 2011-12 Common Experience

Students, faculty and other members of the Indiana Southeast community are exploring issues of poverty, immigration and social justice in the campus's Common Experience program, centered around the theme "Liberty and Justice for All: Social Change and Campus Action for 70 Years and Beyond."

The Common Experience, now in its fifth year, includes dozens of speakers, panel discussions, film screenings and other events linked to themes of social change and justice and tied to the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the New Albany campus.

The annual program is designed to encourage civil discourse and critical thinking and to establish IU Southeast as a regional center of learning excellence. It seeks to strengthen the sense of community and engage students, especially first-year students, in the intellectual life of the campus.

"The purpose of the program is to bring the community together in conversation about a common theme. We're trying to foster discussion around a topic of relevance, through programming related to the theme and common texts that everyone is invited to read," said Maria Accardi, coordinator of instruction for the IU Southeast Library and co-chair of the Common Experience program committee with Kathy Meyer of the New Student & Leadership Programs office.

Members of the campus community were invited to read two books -- The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler and A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto by Jorge Ramos -- both of which make thought-provoking arguments about social justice. About 20 faculty members have incorporated the Common Experience texts into their courses.

Accardi said the theme and readings resonate for many IU Southeast students at a time when the U.S. is struggling economically and debates over immigration are much in the news.

"A lot of our students come from middle-class and working-class backgrounds," she said. "A lot are first-generation college students. They can relate to the sort of economic difficulties described in The Working Poor and the issues raised in A Country for All."

A program committee, made up of faculty and staff, plans each year's Common Experience, selects the texts and arranges for events and discussions. Previous themes have included living in the digital age, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness.

Participation varies, but organizers were pleased by the big turnout for two events in September: a presentation titled "Social (In) Justice: Capital Punishment in the U.S." and a program on "Understanding the Stigma of Mental Illness," co-sponsored by the campus Psychology Club.

Some events are scheduled independently but come under the Common Experience umbrella because they relate to the year's theme: for example, a Safe Zone training last week to facilitate student support for LGBT students and an observance of National Coming Out Day today (Oct. 11).

Spotlight events coming up this fall include the Student Leadership Conference on Oct. 21 with breakout sessions on topics such as ethnicity, religion, nationalism, and gender; "The Immigrant Mystique: When Sentiment and Policy Collide and the Mess It Makes" on Nov. 3, a discussion and response to Ramos' A Country for All; and "Making the Working Poor Visible" on Nov. 15, a demographic and economic profile of the IU Southeast service region by the campus's Applied Research and Education Center.

For more information and complete listings of events, see http://www.ius.edu/common-experience/index.html.