Common Experience reading from 2017 to be major motion picture

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New York Time's Bestseller "Just Mercy" Photo credit: Ivy Sandoval

Ivy Sandoval

Every year, Texas State presents an academic theme known as the Common Experience, promoting a variety of academic events and student participation throughout the academic year.

There are often more than 180 events—including the LBJ Distinguished Lecture Series—named after famous alumni President Lyndon B. Johnson. The series hosts famous speakers to share their thoughts and experiences relating to the academic theme for that year.

Along with various events, presentations and panels held, incoming students are provided a common reading relating to the theme. Students discuss the book and theme in their university seminar class, which is designed to help incoming students with resources and the transition to Texas State.

The 2017-2018 academic year was the powerful theme of “The Search For Justice: Our Response to Crime in the 21st Century.” The theme is chosen a year in advance through a competitive process including faculty, staff and students reflecting society and helps to inform and inspire students.

Nathan Pino, one of three co-chairs for the 2017-2018 Common Experience year, helped come up with the theme. He wanted something impactful.

“We thought the search for justice was an important theme because crime and criminal justice issues such as police shootings, mass incarceration, the drug war, treatment of immigrants and so on were a part of the national conversation,” Pino said. “Crime, justice, human rights and similar issues are relevant to many academic disciplines on campus and students, in general, are not always aware of their civil rights and responsibilities as citizens.”

Pino suggested the Common Reading, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” which was selected for the 2017-2018 year due to its relevance on the topic. He received the inspiration after hearing author Bryan Stevenson speak.

“Just Mercy” tells the story of author and lawyer Bryan Stevenson on his journey of founding the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization dedicated to defending the wrongfully accused serving on death row. The book follows the story of one of his first cases, Walter McMillian, who was accused of a murder he did not commit. The New York Times best-seller is now a major motion picture—starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx—set to release Christmas Day 2019.

Pino said he was extremely proud to help bring Stevenson to campus as one of the distinguished lectures.

“During the year of the theme, (Stevenson) became increasingly well-known, and then we found out they were going to make a movie about him,” Pino said. “When he came to speak, he was very powerful and had a huge impact on the audience, so we were really happy our students were able to see him.”

When students of Texas State—particularly 2017 incoming students—heard the book will now be a film, some were excited about the influence it had on the campus and students.

Corina Perez, psychology sophomore, said she loved the book and the impact it had on her. She was hesitant of the overall Common Experience theme at first but realized the importance of knowing how the criminal justice system works. She ended up redefining her definition of what it means to be “just.”

“I really enjoyed the book; it gave a lot of insight and perspective on issues in the justice system I’d never thought of before,” Perez said. “I’m so glad such a powerful story is being told in a major motion picture. I’ll definitely be going to see it when it comes out.”

Bianca Escobar, criminal justice junior, said she enjoyed the book and getting to hear Bryan Stevenson speak. She hopes the film will create change and call attention to the flaws in the criminal justice system.

“The book was very informative and showed a different side of incarceration I didn’t know and not many people know about,” Escobar said. “This a book a lot of people need to read and the fact it is being made into a film brings a lot of awareness and will hopefully change the way our criminal justice system is run.”

The justice theme touched on a variety of topics students were very passionate about; a topic still highly relevant today. The book is available for purchase on Amazon or to check-out in Alkek. The first trailer of “Just Mercy” is out now.


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