The Common Read is part of Harris’ commitment to diversity and inclusion and Harris’ shared belief that it is essential that future policymakers be given the opportunity to gain an understanding of the lived experiences of people who have been marginalized.

The main goal is simple – to have all incoming students collectively share in a single learning experience while gaining an appreciation for diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and individual stories that not only impacts how we work together as classmates, but how we view the world as future policymakers. As you read through the book, read with a critical lens and explore policy issues that come to light. The Common Read is carefully selected by our Orientation Leaders in consultation with the Diversity and Inclusion Office.

Common Read 2021- 2022

The Harris Common Read selection for the 2021-2022 academic year explores the unseen and often highly destructive American hierarchy that goes beyond the confines of race, class, gender, and other factors that have proven so successful at dividing us. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, a powerful portrait by Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author Isabel Wilkerson, examines eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and dehumanization. She documents the parallels between American and two other hierarchies in history, those of India and of Nazi Germany, leaving a fuller appreciation for the price we all pay in a society torn by artificial divisions.

“The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality,” Wilkerson writes in Caste. “It is about power — which groups have it and which do not.”

Throughout her deeply researched book, Wilkerson discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against. She writes about the surprising health costs of caste, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Caste relies on riveting stories about people—including the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the great pitcher Satchel Paige; a single father and his toddler son; Wilkerson herself; and many others—to show how the pernicious undertow of caste has shaped and still has a grip over American society today.

Caste offers such an eye-opening, highly readable, almost poetic look at some of the forces that quietly and unhelpfully influence the lives of every day American citizens, in ways that both shine a spotlight on and yet also transcend race,” said Michelle Hoereth, Assistant Dean of Diversity & Inclusion at Harris. “As with selections from previous years, Caste will serve as a common learning experience aimed at helping students gain a greater appreciation for diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and individual stories that not only impact their work together as classmates, but also their worldview as future policymakers.” 

Through her writing, Wilkerson brings the invisible and the marginalized into the light. Her debut work, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, and the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Common Read Discussions

All incoming students are expected to participate in the Common Read, and all members of the Harris community are encouraged to join. During orientation you will engage in small group discussions on the Common along side your Polis. There also will be a community wide program featuring policy experts engaging in a lively discussion on the policy issues brought to light in the Common Read.  Last year's panel style program featured; Ryan Kellogg, Ph.D., Harris Professor and Deputy Dean for Academic Programs, Sarah E. Fredericks, Ph.D., Divinity School Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Director of Doctoral Studies, and Mark N. Templeton, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the Law School.

Past Year's Common Read

What the Eyes Don't See (2020)

Just Mercy (2019)

The South Side (2018)

High Rise Stories (2017)

A photo of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha in front of a green natural background

Harris Public Policy Selects 2020-2021 Common Read

The Harris Common Read for the coming academic year is Mona Hanna-Attisha's What the Eyes Don't See, a firsthand account of the Flint water crisis and its effect on countless lives.