Common Theme Program

USJ Common Theme 2023

The USJ Common Read program is now called the Common Theme program. 

The Common Theme program is a Common Read with a twist

Instead of just reading one book, you can choose from a variety of media that focus on a single topic.


The Common Theme program, USJ Explores, is designed to engage incoming first-year students, current students, faculty, staff and alumni in campus-wide events that foster discussion, connection and exploration. These shared experiences encourage the campus community to build connections to the University’s mission and core values.

USJ students, faculty and staff will have a choice to read books or essays, listen to podcasts, watch films or view art to launch discussion connected to the Common Theme. Through the variety of events, students will be able to connect with each other and members of the USJ community.

Fall 2023 Common Theme

The Fall 2023 Common Theme is Identity. We will explore the many ways that your identity develops over time, as well as how identity is linked to the Core Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy. USJ faculty, staff and students will lead discussions on the factors that contribute to identity and ways to share your story with the world.

For your First-Year Seminar course, you will be required to participate in at least one Common Theme activity and write a reflection about it. Other courses may require you to attend or may offer extra credit for you to do so. By attending Common Theme events, you can earn Priority Points for your on-campus housing.

To get started, choose at least one item from the Common Theme Playlist to read, watch or listen to this summer. A schedule of events will be available on the USJ website in August.

Common Theme Playlist: 

Choose at least ONE item from the list below. Each item is tied to an event. Visit this page to register for events! 

Read the article linked above by Katja Pylyshenko Kolcio (Contact Quarterly, Summer/Fall 2016). Then, watch Dr. Kolcio’s Congressional briefing: Heroes of Liberty – Enhancing Psycho-Social Care, Resilience, and Civic Engagement of Ukrainian Veterans

Event: Somatic Methods for Resilience Workshop
Katja Kolcio, Associate Professor, Wesleyan, Principal Investigator in Vitality Project Donbas, A Somatic Program for Psychosocial Health in Donbas Ukraine.
Nadia Tarnawsky, Singer, Performance Artist, collector of traditional folk songs and customs of Ukraine.
Vira Hanchar, Actress, Singer, Translator.
Larissa Babij, Writer, Art Critic, Feldenkreis Practitioner.
Tuesday, September 26, 12 – 1 p.m. Connor Chapel of Our Lady

Somatics are physical practices combined with reflection to foster resilience, healing and sense of self. Also known as ‘body-mind practices’, somatics also include cultural practices, ritual, songs and prayer. In fact, somatics are foundational to cultural practices – providing structure to the ways people survive and thrive and to preserve their sense of identity. 

In this presentation, Katja Kolcio, Nadia Narnawsky, Larissa Babij and Vera Honchar will share the practices they have learned and implemented in Ukraine.

These practices have helped Ukrainians preserve their cultural identity over 400 years of persecution and systematic cultural censorship.

These insights broaden our understanding of resilience, and the role of body and mind in shaping identity and connection to others. Katja Kolcio and Nadia Tarnawsky will be present in-person. Larissa Babij and Vera Honchar will join us from Ukraine via zoom. Somatic Methods for Resilienceis funded by NEH Grant. 

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Film/Book

-You can watch the film OR read the book.   
-The film is available for streaming on Tubi or via Amazon Prime, or you can attend a live showing this fall. 
-If you would prefer to read the book, you can check it out from the USJ library or your local library, or purchase online. 

Event:  Identity and Mental Health  
Interactive sessions led by Group Counseling students, the Center for Wellness Development and CAPS 
Thursday, October 5, 4-5:30 p.m., McGovern Lounge 
Join us for an interactive wellness and self-care event open to all USJ students! This collaborative event is co-hosted by CAPS, the Center for Wellness Development, and the Counselor Education Department, and is centered on the Common Theme of Identity and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate students will facilitate numerous stations throughout the event. Participants will have an opportunity to engage in hands on activities, receive resources, and have discussions on promoting wellness, prioritizing self-care, learning strength-based identity formation strategies, and increasing mental health awareness. 

  • “Who do you say that I am?” 

-First, watch this short video clip from the film Jesus  (1979).  The film has translations in over 2000 languages, so you can watch the clip in your preferred language. 

Next, read these Bible passages:  Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9.  Feel free to use your own preferred edition of the Bible to read these. 

Event: “Who do you say that I am?”
Fr. Joe Cheah, Professor of Religious Studies; Dr. Agnes Curry, Professor of Philosophy; Stephen Balkaran, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy 
Wednesday, October 11, 3-4 p.m., Crystal Room 

The question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15) reflects Jesus’ own development in understanding his identity and mission. It is also a question he poses to all of us: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do people say that we are?” In a presentation by the PTRS Department on the theme of identity, Professors Agnes Curry, Stephen Balkaran, and Fr. Joe Cheah will share their respective identity in relation to their ethnicity and race background, cultural and religious upbringings.   

Image: “’Who do you say that I am?’ ~ Matthew 16, Mark 8, Luke 9” by Sharon Tate Soberson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

-Listen to 4-5 stories about Identity from this playlist. You can also find video versions of many of the stories on this YouTube channel.

Event: Telling Your Story  
Roseanne Krzanowski, Head Librarian 
Multiple dates available – choose one: 
Wednesday, October 18, 10-10:50 a.m., Crystal Room, Mercy Hall 
Tuesday, October 24, 7-8 p.m., Collaboration Lab, Pope Pius XII Library 
 Telling a story well can help you to excel in a job interview, a presentation, a party or a first date. Storytelling is an art. It is also a skill you can learn. Learn the basics to tell a story and share your unique experience. This workshop will equip participants to tell their own story from their unique perspective.  Students, faculty and staff are welcome to attend. 

  • USJ Art Museum – Art

-Visit USJ’s Art Museum this fall (starting on September 14) to view works of art that focus on the theme of identity. This list includes the featured pieces that address identity. You can learn more about these works in the Art Museum’s database.

Event:  Exploring Identity through Arts 
Led by USJ Faculty 
Multiple dates available – choose one: 

  • Tuesday, September 19th at 1 p.m. – Dr. Ben Peters, Professor of Religious Studies 
    Jack Whinery, homesteader, with family, Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940 by Russell Lee 
  • Tuesday, October 3rd at 1 p.m. –Susan Murphy, Assistant Professor of Dance 
    Gestures IX (Gestuario IX) by Antonio Martorell 
  • Tuesday, October 17th at 1 p.m. – Dr. Jennifer Kowitt, Assistant Professor of Education 
    I find hope on the horizon of my tomorrows by Hollis Sigler 
  • Tuesday, November 7th at 1 p.m. – Dr. Maria Anderson, Associate Professor of Psychology 
    Crossroads by Hank Willis Thomas 
  • Tuesday, November 14th at 1 p.m. – Dr. Agnes Curry, Professor of Philosophy 
    The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles by Faith Ringgold 

Exploring Identity through Arts Questions

The Art Museum will host a series of conversations on individual works of art that prompt consideration of identity and its representation.  Each conversation will be led by a USJ faculty or staff member and will focus on a single work of art. Advance notice of each session’s artwork and discussion leader will allow the community to preview the work and develop thoughts or questions to raise during the Tuesday conversation.  Among the artists whose work will be featured are African American photographer and conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, Mexican-born painter and printmaker Enrique Chagoya, Puerto Rican printmaker Antonio Martorell, and feminist artist Judy Chicago. 

Image: The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles (Faith Ringgold, 1996)

Common Theme Events by Date 


  • Tuesday, September 26, 12 – 1 p.m.: Somatic Methods for Resilience Workshop


  • Tuesday, October 3, 1-2 p.m.: Exploring Identity through Arts 
  • Thursday, October 5, 4-5:30 p.m.: Identity and Mental Health 
  • Wednesday, October 11, 3-4 p.m.:  Who Do You Say That I Am?
  • Tuesday, October 17, 1-2 p.m.: Exploring Identity Through Arts 
  • Wednesday, October 18, 10-10:50 a.m.: Telling Your Story 
  • Tuesday, October 24, 7-8 p.m.: Telling Your Story 


  • Tuesday, November 7, 1-2 p.m.: Exploring Identity Through Arts 
  • Tuesday, November 14, 1-2 p.m.: Exploring Identity Through Arts 


For questions about events or items on the playlist, please contact:

The Common Theme Chairs:
Christina Flood – [email protected]
Roseanne Krzanowski – [email protected]
Kaitlin Walsh – [email protected]

The Fall 2023 Common Theme Program is supported in part by the NEH Humanities and Arts Fund at the University of Saint Joseph.