First Read Program unites first-year students in shared learning experience

October 5, 2010 | Events, UToday
By Kate Wente

dead-man-walking-original-coverEach year, universities and high schools across the nation, including The University of Toledo, take part in First Read programs, allowing first-year students to share a common learning experience.

Designed to bring incoming students together, the UT First Read Program aims to provide a shared reading experience that will introduce students to a part of their academic life while developing a strong sense of community with their peers, faculty and staff, both inside and outside the classroom.

“These programs unite everyone in different colleges and at different points in their lives. First Read Programs allow the students to get more involved on campus,” said Jessica Merritt, program manager for the UT Office of Student Involvement.

This year, UT selected Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean. The book gives an unprecedented look at the human consequences of the death penalty and confronts both the plight of the condemned and the rage of the bereaved, as well as the needs of a crime-ridden society and the Christian imperative of love.

“There are so many intersections and hot topics that students don’t normally get to talk about in this book, and this allows them to connect learning inside and outside of the classroom,” Merritt said.

The activities that are generated through the First Read Program engage students in campus community projects, co-curricular activities and campus events related to the reading of the common text, all while strengthening reading, writing and critical thinking skills.

Students participated in coffee hours to discuss the book, an essay contest competition, and if students were spotted with their copy of Dead Man Walking on campus by a committee member, they received a voucher for a prize.

On Wednesday, Oct. 6, an Interfaith Panel on the Issues will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Student Union Ingman Room. One of the most controversial issues presented in Dead Man Walking is the complexity of religious beliefs around the subject of the death penalty, and this panel discussion will allow student organizations and religious representatives to communicate their perspectives.

That will be followed with a play Thursday, Oct. 7, that will explore the death penalty. “The Exonerated” by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen will be performed at 7:30 p.m. in the Center for Performing Arts Recital Hall. The play is the true story of five American men and one American woman who were convicted and sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Combined, these six people spent more than 100 years on death row before the criminal justice system finally corrected its errors and freed them.

The First Read Program will conclude when the University hosts Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking, as part of the Fourth Annual Gandhi Lecture for Peace and Nonviolence at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, in the Student Union Auditorium.

The First Read Program is a partnership between the Division of Student Affairs and the UT Learning Collaborative.

For more information about First Read events, visit or contact Merritt at 419.530.7221.

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