Common Experience 2020
The chosen theme of the Common Experience 2020 was civility and political action. When COVID-19 struck, and the United States began to discuss systemic racism amid wide-spread protests, it became apparent that the theme was too limited to encapsulate the common experience the country and the world are facing today.
The Common Experience 2020 has chosen podcasts that discuss a pandemic and the civil rights movement.
Part I: 1918 Flu Podcast
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first that has swept the globe. Here we will learn more about a pandemic that happened over 100 years ago – the 1918 Flu.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic it’s tempting to draw comparisons to the most severe pandemic in recent history – the 1918 flu. But as much as we can learn from the comparison, it’s important to also understand just how much these two pandemics differ. In this 30 minute NPR podcast we can learn from what happened in 1918 and, just as importantly, where the comparison should end. (38 minutes with credits).
A transcript of this podcast can be accessed via 1918 Flu Podcast Transcription (Links to an external site.).
Part II: Politics under a Pandemic
Our Common Experience reflects the cycles that we find in nature and human society. Over the past several weeks, we have seen and experienced discussions of protest, social justice, equality, racism, etc. These are not new themes. In fact, one of the great teachers at Mary Washington, Dr. James Farmer, participated in non-violent protests during the Civil Rights Movement. Initially, the Common Experience Committee had selected March, Book II, a graphic memoir of Congressman John Lewis’s life centered on the 1963 March on Washington; however, due to the pandemic, our plans changed. The themes in this book are powerful and timely, and these required podcasts bring them to life. Here, you will meet Dr. Farmer and Congressman Lewis and hear first-hand accounts of their own quests to promote social justice.
- In this 8 minute Fresh Air podcast (National Public Radio), Dr. James Farmer, a founder of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality), talks about his time with the Freedom Riders and his arrest in Mississippi:
A transcript of this podcast can be accessed via
2. This 3 minute Story Corps (National Public Radio) podcast sets the stage for Congressman John Lewis’s fight for racial equality and Civil Rights with a letter written to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Congressman Lewis, despite his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, continues to work to promote equality:
A transcript of this podcast can be accessed via Rep. John Lewis: Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King Jr. Transcription (Links to an external site.).
3. This 33 minute podcast from Oprah’s Master Class provides a longer description of Congressman Lewis’s March and the Freedom Rides by Lewis himself:
A transcript of this podcast can be accessed via
Part III: Share your experience
There will be two ways for students to share their experiences on Canvas!
First: Weekly Discussion Questions
Each week a discussion question will be posted. The first two weeks will center on a discussion of the 1918 Flu and today’s pandemic. Weeks three through five will be around the civil unrest and politically charged environment that have dominated the country’s ethos this summer.
Second: Artifact Submission
Students can upload an artifact (photo, artwork, poem, prose, etc.) that typifies your experiences this spring and summer. We have all been affected by the events of the spring and summer, so take this opportunity to share with each other what this common experience has looked like for you. We will compile submissions and share them publicly, so that we can see where we are as a collective with the events of the past several months.
Artifacts should be:
- Personal. Your artifact should give others a glimpse into your experiences in 2020. It should be something you created, or something you found and modified, not something you merely copied and pasted.
- Open. Submissions will be shared publicly in a variety of formats, so please do not submit anything that you would like to remain private.
- Anonymous. We respect your privacy. Do not include your name, your face, or any other information that could be used to identify you.
- Brief. Your submission should be small enough to fit on one page of letter-sized paper. Textual artifacts (poetry or prose) should be no more than 250 words each.
Part IV: Podcasts – “Good Trouble UMW” – Season 1 starts in Aug!
2020 was an amazing year in many ways. First the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home, and then in June, incidents of police brutality sent UMW students into the streets. Many students worked in Fredericksburg and their home communities to raise awareness of national issues related to police misconduct. This tradition of activism, and being a force for positive social change, has a long history at Mary Washington.
This podcast will explore many different forms of student activism at UMW over the past 70 years. Along the way, we will learn more about the work of civil rights activist and former UMW professor James Farmer, student movements in the 80s, 90s, and early aughts, and explore the Black Lives Matter-inspired protests and demonstrations that started in summer 2020. And through this process we will learn more about what civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis called “Good Trouble” – making a difference by addressing challenges where you live and in the world around you.
Good Trouble UMW episodes are available now via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and elsewhere. New episodes will come out each week this fall.
- Aug. 4 – Announcing Good Trouble: UMW
- Did you know that in 1998, the University of Mary Washington almost changed its name to Washington and Monroe University? Or that the school had its own Occupy movement in 2011? Or that an organization that had its first office in a Mary Wash dorm closet has now had over 7,000 volunteers? As part of this year’s first-year experience, Good Trouble: UMW, a podcast, will launch its first episode on Tuesday, August 11th. The podcast looks at the history of student activism at UMW, with interviews from students, alumni, and faculty who worked to change the university, the state, and the world. The preview episode is available now via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and elsewhere.
- Transcript of Good Trouble: UMW Trailer episode.
- Aug. 11 – Episode 1