The goal of the On the Same Page program is to generate discussion--and sometimes action--around a common theme. Towards that goal we endeavor each year to choose a book that is engaging to students and faculty members from a wide array of disciplinary backgrounds and inclinations. We are also aware that the selected work will be the first gift that new students receive from UC Berkeley. and for this reason we want it to be a work that signals something about our values, and the level of complex thinking that students can expect to encounter in college. Finally, because we feature the author in a keynote event in the fall, the work must be by a living author. 

Working with all these criteria, a team of faculty members spent the spring and summer of 2015 reading widely, in a quest to come up with the best possible titles for the 2016 program. They selected four books, each of which would have formed the basis for an exciting and thought-provoking On the Same Page program in the fall of 2016. We then made copies of all four books available to over thirty volunteer student reviewers, recruited speicifically because their roles bring them into contact with a wide variety of other undergraduates: they are RA's in the residence halls, CalSO leaders, ASUC officers, Public Service Center participants and the like. Twenty-five of these students submitted scores and written comments on one or more of the books over the fall 2015 term, during which the five Letters & Science deans were also reading all four finalist texts. At the end of the fall the deans took all of the faculty and student responses into account when making the final decision. 

The various faculty and student reviewers voiced an array of reasons for speaking in favor of Just Mercy. Professor Alan Tansman's reasons are summarized in a short piece he wrote, which also appears on the On the Same Page landing page:

 "Passion, commitment, justice, brutality, the defense of the condemned. In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson--he's been called America's Nelson Mandela, America's Atticus Finch--sears the reader in his telling of his fight as a young lawyer for social justice on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged. Just Mercy grips you like the best of novels, bringing you into the lives of the most desperate of people caught in systems of imperfect justice. Stephenson makes us despair that just mercy is beyond our reach, but fills us with glimmers of hope that it is also always within our grasp. Just Mercy is about human suffering and guilt, about the morality of punishment, about poverty and the law, and about the possibilities for heroic action in an imperfect world."

Here are some representative quotations from student reviewers:

"This book was absolutely wonderful and woke me up to an issue I had not previously thoroughly considered. It woke me up to the racial and socioeconomic discrimination that pervaded and still pervades the nation. It made me finally think critically about corrupt legal systems, incarceration, the prison-industrial complex, and the death penalty. Just Mercy made me reevaluate my political priorities, something few books have done."

" It is a very interesting story. I finished the book in 1 sitting. Bryan Stevenson is a fantastic writer."

When asked what kinds of students they could imagine engaging with Just Mercy, student reviewers had this to say:

"I think students of all backgrounds and all political ideologies can engage wholeheartedly in this book. I wasn't very interested in the American criminal justice system, and now I am. I even urged my Rhetoric R1B teacher to read it, and now she hopes that it will be chosen for next year's On The Same Page Book so she can teach it to her students."

"Any students interested in engaging with a topic relevant to current events, students interested in sociology, racism, and social justice, and students interested in criminal justice."

And when asked if they would recommend this book to their freshman roommate, they told us this:

"Yes: Absolutely. They both are people who care about justice and care about exposing wrongs done to innocent people."

"Yes: It's an absolutely gripping read and it feels like an essential part of a well-rounded college education."

"Yes: It's an amazing book that sheds light on our justice system which isn't just sometimes. It deals with racism, which is something that a Berkeley student should be aware of and know how to battle against it."