Common Book

For nearly 20 years, the Common Book has brought together the WSU community of readers in the discussion of a single literary work.

Each academic year, a new Common Book is selected and incorporated into the curriculum of numerous courses, including sections of ENG 111: College Reading and Writing. It may also be adopted by any faculty interested in the issues it raises.

Public readings, lectures, discussions, and other related events scheduled concurrently with each author’s visit to WSU.

Funding for the Common Book has generously been made available by the College of Liberal Arts and the WSU Cabinet.

2024-2025 Common Book

The 2024-25 Common Book is “Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels” by Catherine Sanderson.

About the Book
We are bombarded every day by reports of bad behavior, from sexual harassment to political corruption and bullying belligerence.

It’s tempting to blame evil acts on evil people, but that leaves the rest of us off the hook. Silence, after all, can perpetuate cruelty.

“Why We Act” draws on the latest developments in psychology and neuroscience to tackle an urgent question: Why do so many of us fail to intervene when we’re needed—and what would it take to make us step up?

A renowned psychologist who has done pioneering research on social norms, Catherine Sanderson was inspired to write this book when a freshman in her son’s dorm died 20 hours after a bad fall while drinking. There were many points along the way when a decision to seek help could have saved his life. Why did no one act sooner?

Cutting-edge neuroscience offers part of the answer, showing how deviating from a group activates the same receptors in the brain that are triggered by pain. But Sanderson also points to many ways in which our faulty assumptions about what other people are thinking can paralyze us.

And she shares surprisingly effective and simple strategies for resisting the pressure to conform. Moral courage, it turns out, is not innate. Small details and the right training can make a big difference.

Inspiring and potentially life transforming, “Why We Act” reveals that while the urge to do nothing is deeply ingrained, even the most hesitant would-be bystander can learn to be a moral rebel.

We look forward to welcoming Catherine Sanderson to Winona State in October, and we’re putting together events and programs to complement the reading of the book. Instructors looking to adopt this book should reach out to Andrew Higl in English, and a packet to support teaching the book will be available in early August.

How to Join

We hope you’ll read and incorporate what you take away from the book into your life while at WSU.

You can purchase this book from: 

Faculty Adaptors

If teaching this book, faculty should simply list the book (ISBN 9780674271111) on their book order at the WSU bookstore and can request a copy from the publisher.

A packet of teaching and contextual materials is available starting in mid-August for those teaching the book.

Contact Dr. Andrew Higl for more information. 

Upcoming Events

Get involved in this year’s Common Book with campus events.

Nominate the Next Common Book

All WSU community members, students, staff, faculty, and administrators are welcome to propose nominations for a Common Book selection.

The book should be:

  • Engaging
  • Challenging
  • Teachable
  • Interdisciplinary

The author should be:

  • Available
  • Affordable
  • Willing to work with WSU students

Related programming may include campus visits by the author or other keynote speakers, panel discussions among faculty and community experts, and film screenings.

Nominations that address the yearly University Theme are particularly encouraged.

Contact Dr. Andrew Higl at to nominate a book for the 2024-25 academic year.


Do you have a question, or just want more information? Don’t be afraid to reach out!