Common Experience 2020

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). 

1918 Flu Podcast (Links to an external site.)  

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.

  1. 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 Founder of CORE Recalls Freedom Rides Podcast (Links to an external site.) 

A transcript of this podcast can be accessed via A Founder of CORE Recalls Freedom Rides Transcription.

  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:

Rep. John Lewis: Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King Jr. Podcast (Links to an external site.) 

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:

[Stitcher] Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast John Lewis (Links to an external site.) or

[Apple] Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast John Lewis (Links to an external site.) 

A transcript of this podcast can be accessed via Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast John Lewis Transcription.


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 – Good Trouble S1E1: The Summer of Right Now
    • In the summer of 2020—that is, the summer of right now—America saw what grew into the largest protest movement in its history. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department, a murder captured on film and circulated in the midst of a quarantine, protesters gathered around the nation to demand an end to police brutality, white supremacy, and to declare that Black Lives mattered. In late May and early June, marches around the country were met by police, who often responded with force, including teargas. Protesters in over one hundred cities were gassed, from New York to Los Angeles, to Seattle to Minneapolis. The smallest town in which police used gas against protesters was Fredericksburg, Virginia, a town of 25,000 residents, and home to the University of Mary Washington, a small school with a big history of student activism.
    • Transcript of Good Trouble: UMW S1E1
  • Aug. 18 – Good Trouble S1E2: Four Messages from the City of Fredericksburg
    • On the lastest episode of Good Trouble: University of Mary Washington students and staff, including Kyree Ford, Breezy Reaves, and Chris Williams, gathered in downtown Fredericksburg and along Cowan Boulevard to march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. While marching, they encountered support…
    • Transcript of Good Trouble: UMW S1E2
  • Aug. 25 – Good Trouble S1E3: Letters to a Young Activist
    • Many of this year’s incoming class of first-year college students were born in 2002. That makes them the first group of college students mostly born after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.  But for the students attending Mary Washington College then, that year, and the years after, as the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, those years were living history. They were the years that they learned how to become activists.
    • Transcript of Good Trouble: UMW S1E3
  • Sept. 1 – Good Trouble S1E4: Fighting for Fifteen
    • On the last episode of Good Trouble: During their existence ,the Human Rights Club of Mary Washington College took on big problems–the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the death penalty, the World Bank—but they also worked on changing things on campus. In 1997, the year that some of the club’s first members arrived at Mary Wash, the federal government raised the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour. It stayed there for ten years, as the cost of living in Fredericksburg rose. Students decided to see if they could do something about it. This is…Good Trouble.
    • Transcript of Good Trouble: UMW S1E4
  • Sept. 8 – Good Trouble S1E5: “Power Through Community”
    • Classes begin remotely this year, but the students of the University of Mary Washington still took part in a time-honored tradition: first day introductions. Names, hometowns, majors, a fun fact of some sort. In recent years, students have also started including their pronouns: she/her they/their, he/his, and more. Naming your pronouns has become as familiar a part of the first day as going with the textbooks are getting out 15 minutes early. But it wasn’t too long ago that the school had never had an openly transgender student. Then Charlie showed up. This is…Good Trouble.
    • GTS1E5 Transcript.docx
  • Sept. 15 – Good Trouble S1E6: The Debate 
    • In 1993, Donald Rallis was an assistant professor of Geography at Mary Washington College. Untenured and unafraid, he outed himself as a gay man in a column for The Bullet, the college’s newspaper. That led to a debate between Rallis and another professor on the morality of homosexuality. They were expecting a few dozen audience members. They ended up with over a thousand. This is…Good Trouble.