Common Reading

Selection Process

The process for choosing the human rights common reading is designed to include voices from throughout the Webster community. The process begins with an e-mail to Institute Fellows, First Year Seminar instructors, a library liaison, and overseas academic directors asking for suggestions for the common reading. From those suggestions, the Institute selects five books that best fit the YIHR theme and offer opportunities for co-curricular events and classroom discussion. A second e-mail is distributed – this time providing information about the book such as a synopsis, reviews, and costs – and people are encouraged to respond with their feedback and preferences. Once a selection is made, the book recommendation is forwarded to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for final approval. 

2013-2014 Common Reading

The Short Bus  

The Short Bus

The Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies is pleased to announce the common reading for the 2013/14 Year in International Human Rights (YIHR): Disability Rights-- The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney. Mooney takes a derogatory term--short bus--and travels around the country to talk to kids who have been diagnosed or labeled with a variety of learning disabilities. Children and young adults with physical, mental, and learning disabilitieshave often been singled out as outsiders or different--or as Mooney says, "not normal." The author will be visiting Webster St. Louis to talk with students, staff and community educators about his work on October 3, 2013.

 About the Book

A young man once labeled “severely learning disabled” journeys across America to find others who have used humor, imagination, and resiliency to create satisfying lives beyond “normal.

When his teachers decided Jonathan Mooney needed special ed because he couldn't follow directions, sit still, or read well, he feared he'd lost his chance to be a regular kid. Suddenly he was “not normal.” Suddenly he was a short-bus rider destined to travel a harder road, a distinction that screamed out his “difference” to a hostile world. Along with other kids facing similar challenges, he was denigrated daily. He almost lost hope. Yet ultimately, Jon shocked the skeptics, graduating from Brown University (with honors). But he could never shake the voice that insisted he would always be “less than.”

So he hit the road. To free himself, he dreamed up an epic journey across the U.S. on a broken-down short bus. This inspiring record of his odyssey documents Mooney's search to help himself by learning from others once labeled abnormal who had learned to live in beautifully original ways. He meets Ashley, a deaf and blind girl who curses out her teachers in sign language; Kent, a performance artist with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who loves “yo mama” jokes and may just be the new Andy Kaufman; Jeff, an obsessive eccentric whom society would label autistic, keeps unadorned lists that describe his world in unexpectedly moving ways. These people confirm his belief that “normal” is a state that no one actually visits. Everyone, Jon discovers, must embrace even their most radical differences. Propelled by a unique writer's heart, mind, and spirit, The Short Bus is a rebellious, funny, and incredibly colorful investigation of life lived happily outside the lines.

Taken from:

Resource Guide for The Short Bus is now available. Click here for the PDF.

2012-2013 Common Reading

The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon

The Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies is pleased to
announce the common readingLast Tribe for the 2012/13 Year in International Human Rights (YIHR): The Rights of Indigenous and Stateless Peoples.  The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon is about a man who searches for small, almost extinct indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest. Brazilian law stipulates that land must be preserved if a tribe lives on it which puts indigenous people in danger as logging and other interests would like to have access to the land.

Our goal with the common reading is to build an intellectual community and stimulate debates and discussions about indigenous rights protection and the connection between indigenous rights, development, environmental activism, and cultural survival.

About the Book

"Throughout the centuries, the Amazon has yielded many of its secrets, but it still holds a few great mysteries. In 1996 experts got their first glimpse of one: a lone Indian, a tribe of one, hidden in the forests of southwestern Brazil. Previously uncontacted tribes are extremely rare, but a one-man tribe was unprecedented. And like all of the isolated tribes in the Amazonian frontier, he was in danger. Resentment of Indians can run high among settlers, and the consequences can be fatal. The discovery of the Indian prevented local ranchers from seizing his land, and led a small group of men who believed that he was the last of a murdered tribe to dedicate themselves to protecting him. These men worked for the government, overseeing indigenous interests in an odd job that was part Indiana Jones, part social worker, and were among the most experienced adventurers in the Amazon. They were a motley crew that included a rebel who spent more than a decade living with a tribe, a young man who left home to work in the forest at age fourteen, and an old-school sertanista with a collection of tall tales amassed over five decades of jungle exploration. Their quest would prove far more difficult than any of them could imagine. Over the course of a decade, the struggle to save the Indian and his land would pit them against businessmen, politicians, and even the Indian himself, a man resolved to keep the outside world at bay at any cost. It would take them into the furthest reaches of the forest and to the halls of Brazil's Congress, threatening their jobs and even their lives. Ensuring the future of the Indian and his land would lead straight to the heart of the conflict over the Amazon itself.

A heart-pounding modern-day adventure set in one of the world's last truly wild places, The Last of the Tribe is a riveting, brilliantly told tale of encountering the unknown and the unfathomable, and the value of preserving it."

Taken from:

Click here to view the study guide.

2011-2012 Common Reading


The common reading for the 2011/2012 Year of Human Rights was Persepolis,
by Marjane Satrapi. PersepolisHer memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, her high school days in Vienna, her return to Iran in her early adulthood, and her subsequent migration to France,is an example of the human cost of war, and the effects of displacement on refugees. As the common reading, Persepolis tied in some of the major themes in human, refugee and migrant rights. The book documents the uncertainty and loss of dignity facing those who are targets of persecution, even after finding safe haven, showing how individuals can face isolation, prejudice, and problems integrating. We encourage students to think critically about the book, and how it relates to human rights. For more information about the book, please visit

About the book:

"Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane's child's-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a stunning reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, through laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love."


Click here to read about First Year Seminar student's reactions to Persepolis. 

 2010-2011 Common Reading:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

The common reading for the 2010/2011 Year of Women's Rights is
Half the Sky: TurningHalf the Sky Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Webster University welcomed Ms. WuDunn to its Saint Louis campus for a public lecture on September 13, 2011. To learn more about Half the Sky – the book, the movement, and how to protect the rights of women and girls – please visit

About the book:

"From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women's potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it's also the best strategy for fighting poverty." (From the book jacket)