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Photo of monument project

Common Experience

What should Chester citizens know about Widener University?

Students and faculty pondered this question while building monuments from random objects as part of a project inspired by Jena Osman’s book of poetry “Public Figures.” The book was chosen for Widener’s Freshman Common Reading Experience this year.

“The common reading experience is one piece of literature that connects everyone from all different fields of study,” said Ashley DiRienzo, a sophomore secondary education English major from Mullica Hill, New Jersey.

“It creates an intellectual community so you can get used to having stimulating conversations and share opinions about the book.”

In the essay-poem styled book, Osman explores various statues and monuments of historically significant figures in Philadelphia. She’s intrigued by people’s tendency to ignore their surroundings.

“I’ve become aware of our not noticing,” said Osman, who is also a professor at Temple University. “We walk around, and we don’t see things.”

The common reading experience provides an opportunity for freshmen to become part of Widener’s vibrant intellectual community where students, faculty, and authors engage with each other. It also teaches students to think about a topic using multiple perspectives. “Public Figures”reflects the values of public humanities, specifically encouraging students to consider the community surrounding the university, helping promote civic engagement.

“As a faculty member, I feel like a big part of my job is facilitating conversations around big questions and big ideas and creating opportunities for students to really get together and dig in,” said Janine Utell, associate professor and chair of English.

Osman recently returned to campus to speak to freshmen English majors. She had previously visited Widener for two days last September as part of the university’s Distinguished Visiting Writers Series, marking the first of seven events related to her book. Other activities included a faculty panel examining controversial statues, a student town hall meeting where freshmen discussed the common experience, a bus tour of Chester with Reverend Jim Ley, and a walking tour of the city with College of Arts & Sciences Dean Sharon Meagher.

Nick Dulepski, a freshman political science major from Waterbury, Connecticut, visited Philadelphia with his freshman seminar class to look at the public figures. After, he was invited to participate in the student panel. Osman’s lecture particularly inspired Dulepski.

“It gave me this new way to write and be less direct and let people think,” he said.