2024 Summer Reading Program

Strong Voices: Empowering Student Citizenship

The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens

by Richard Haass

This year’s summer reading theme is “Strong Voices: Empowering Student Citizenship.”

The program is built around a central text, The Bill of Obligations, by Richard Haass.

We hope that this very straightforward and clear discussion of basic expectations for American citizenship will help demystify the democratic process, assist you in conducting constructive conversations, and encourage you to enact positive change in your communities.

Contact Information
Chrissie Bumgardner
Co-Director, First Year Experience

Lisa Brown 
Co-Director, First Year Experience


Amended Podcast (Episodes 1&2) (Content Warning: Episode 2 includes discussions of sexual and racial violence, which may be distressing for some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.


Music from Suffs The Musical

Summer Reading Questions

Why do you think Meredith College selected this book for this year’s summer reading program?

The United States Constitution was ratified over 230 years ago and has been amended (changed) only 27 times during that period. Does it currently fulfill its goal of creating “a more perfect union?” What changes would you like to see in this governing document? 

Where do you currently get your news?

Do you feel it is trustworthy?

How do you determine if a source is reliable?

Besides voting, how can you take an active part in your democracy as a student? What are some ways you can get involved?

The Bill of Obligations suggests that parents, corporate leaders, and churches can all be sources of influence. In addition, sports figures, actors, and musicians are also capable of impacting their fans. Who has influenced, or inspired, you to be a good citizen, and how did they make an impact on you?

How would you define compromise in the context of the political environment? As a college student, what situations might require compromise? When is it right to compromise, and when to stand firm?

The author states that “disagreements are inevitable in a democracy.”  When you are communicating with someone who has a different opinion or perspective than you do, what are some strategies you can use to have an effective dialogue?  

How has social media contributed to incivility?

Why is it important to reject violence as a means of reaching political gains in a democracy?  What are some examples of “peaceful channels” through which members of a democracy can work to reach their goals?

Why is it important to reject violence as a means of reaching political gains in a democracy?  What are some examples of “peaceful channels” through which members of a democracy can work to reach their goals?

How are norms different from laws? What are some examples of norms that govern the behavior of our government leaders? What are some examples of norms that have eroded in recent years?

What comprises the “common good” for a democratic society? For our College community? What are some principles that you think are foundational to building a welcoming, inclusive, and engaging community on our campus? 

What are some of the benefits the author believes would come from starting some sort of voluntary national service program?

If the United States were to establish a voluntary national service program, what do you think the incentives would have to be for people to join it? Haass proposes reduced or free tuition for college, or forgiveness of student loans. Would incentives like these be enough to convince Americans to participate?

Meredith College does not require courses typically thought of as civics classes (they can be taken as part of General Education). Should Meredith students be required to take “civics” classes? Why or why not?

Haass argues that part of putting country first is demonstrating “loyal opposition.” Why is “loyal opposition” integral to sustaining our democracy? Can you think of moments in your own life when you witnessed or exhibited “loyal opposition”? 

Tips for Constructive Communication

  • Listen to understand
  • Be aware of your own biases and assumptions
  • Speak from your own unique experience
  • Use “I” statements
  • Talk about ideas, not people
  • Words matter – be careful how you use them


"American democracy will work and reform will prove possible only if obligations join rights at center stage."